JIM CROWLEY knows superstar sprinter Battaash cannot win the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes on the way to the start of the five-furlong sprint, the York Ebor festival’s day three feature.
The former champion jockey knows, however, that he can lose the Group One race during the preliminaries – Battaash boiled over last year, and was reluctant to enter the stalls, prior to a race that saw the now-retired Marsha deny Lady Aurelia on the line as a red-faced Frankie Dettori, riding the runner-up, celebrated prematurely.
Temperament aside, Battaash is developing into a sprinter for the ages after the Charlie Hills-trained horse beat Marsha to land the Prix de l’Abbaye in France last October.
Second at Royal Ascot to Blue Point, who reopposes today in a race which forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series, Crowley’s charge was imperious when turning his defence of Goodwood’s King George Stakes into a one-horse race after the opening furlong.
“He got out of bed the wrong side last year but he’s better now and, hopefully, he can put that episode behind him,” said the jockey, who began his career riding over National Hunt obstacles for Yorkshire training legends Sue and Harvey Smith. “He was very good at Goodwood last time and I’m hoping for more of the same.
“When he’s on song he does everything very easily and he just wants to please. If other horses try and take him they cut their own throats because he’s very, very quick.
“You enjoy it, when you are riding a horse as good as him it’s a great position to be in and you soak it all up. It’s better to be riding a favourite than a 20-1 shot.
“He’s still got it to prove, and only got the one Group One to his name, but the public have obviously taken to him and hopefully we can add a few more, starting on Friday. I think he will.”
Meanwhile the aforementioned Hills is taking no chances.
“I think we’ll saddle him in the stables and then take him across the track on the horsebox,” said the trainer. “He’s had plenty of racing since last year and he’s generally behaved well, to be fair.”
Blue Point wore down Battaash to claim the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot under William Buick, but trainer Charlie Appleby acknowledges Battaash is likely to be tougher to peg back on the Knavesmire.
I’m hoping for more of the same. When he’s on song he does everything very easily and he just wants to please. If other horses try and take him they cut their own throats because he’s very, very quick.Battaash jockey, Jim Crowley
He said: “We’re very happy with our horse going into the race. His preparation has gone well. Obviously we hope the rain stays away as he’s definitely better on quicker ground. We’ve all got Battaash to beat over this trip, on this track.”
And that sentiment is shared by Bawtry trainer David Griffiths, whose ever-popular veteran Take Cover, now 11, led Battaash for a furlong at Goodwood before Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum’s horse surged clear.
“I think he showed at Goodwood he’s as good as ever and I think he’s exactly where we’d want him going into this race,” said Griffiths.
“He’s been third in a Nunthorpe before (2016). Obviously we’ve got Battaash to beat, as well as Blue Point, but Battaash has boiled over before and you’ve got to go there and take him on.
“Battaash is a phenomenal horse, to do what he did at Goodwood. And the thing is he doesn’t even look like a big, strong sprinter – he looks like a pony – but obviously he’s got a massive engine.”
At the other extreme, history could be made on the Knavesmire when Stradivarius lines up in the two-mile Lonsdale Cup.
The four-year-old has carried all before him this season – so much so that he stands on the brink of landing a mammoth £1m bonus for connections by way of the inaugural Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million.
Victory in the Yorkshire Cup at this track in May has been followed by the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot and the successful defence of his Goodwood Cup crown, marking him out as the pre-eminent long-distance performer.
The mount of Frankie Dettori, Stradivarius is trained by John Gosden whose Roaring Lion won the £1m Juddmonte International on Wednesday.
Typically, Gosden has been saying all summer that the Bjorn Nielsen-owned horse’s future comes before the bonus – a scheme intended to encourage owners to keep longer distance horses in training before they’re retired to stud.
“It’s not been the be-all and end-all of his year. It’s just happened those races have fitted him well and he has come out on top in all of them, so we’ll see,” said Gosden. “Nothing is as simple as it seems; certainly not that with horses running in races.
“But we’re happy with him at the moment.
“He ran a valiant race in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot and he ran a very tidy race in the Goodwood Cup. He has won nicely at York this year – the Yorkshire Cup – so it’s a track he likes. We’re pleased with him at this stage.”
Willie Mullins runs Max Dynamite, who has claimed second and third in two Melbourne Cups since winning this race in 2015, but whose recent form leaves him with plenty to find on Stradivarius on an eagerly-anticipated day that is expected to see the champion stayer share top billing with the fastest sprinter in Europe.