Battaash gets opportunity for Nunthorpe redemption
22 Aug 2018
Jim Crowley says brilliant sprinter got "out of bed wrong side" when below-par in Group 1 York sprint last year.
Battaash and Crowley win the Qatar King George Stakes at Goodwood in 2017. Picture: Steve Davies/Racingfotos.com
Jim Crowley hopes Battaash will make it third time lucky in his attempt to land a Group 1 race in Britain when he lines up against 15 rivals in the £350,000 Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes at York (3.35pm) on Friday, a race that forms part of the Sprint category of the QIPCO British Champions Series.
Battaash has put up a series of exhilarating performances over five furlongs in the past 15 months, with a runaway win in the Group 1 Prix de l’Abbaye at Chantilly being sandwiched in between stunning back-to-back triumphs in the Group 2 Qatar King George Stakes at Goodwood.
In the latest renewal of the latter race, last month, the Charlie Hills-trained gelding again showed electrifying speed and won by four lengths to strengthen his claim of being the world’s fastest horse.
However, the four-year-old, owned by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, has not been at his brilliant best in his two previous Group 1 races in Britain. He faded to be fourth in the Nunthorpe 12 months ago, after being reluctant to enter the stalls, and he found Blue Point too strong in the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot in June after making most of the running.
“He got out of bed the wrong side last year but he’s better now and hopefully he can put that episode behind him,” Crowley said. “He was very good at Goodwood last month 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.
“Last time was similar to when he won the Abbaye, and to when he won the King George the previous year. It was probably a stronger race 12 months ago, but this this time he had a 3lb penalty and won by further, so it evens itself out.”
Battaash is odds-on with the bookmakers but Crowley, the Stobart Champion Jockey in 2016, says the level of expectation does not add any extra pressure. “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,” he said. “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 1 to his name, but the public have obviously taken to him and hope hopefully we can add a few more, starting on Friday. I think he will.”
Take Cover (second), Muthmir (third), Mr Lupton (fourth), Havana Grey (sixth), Heartache(eighth) and Sioux Nation (tenth) were among those left trailing at Goodwood but reoppose.Havana Grey had previously won a Group 2 contest at the Curragh, when he had Caspian Prince, Mabs Cross, Battle Of Jericho and Washington DC adrift, but PJ McDonald, his jockey, says trying to keep up with an on-song Battaash is an unenviable task.
“I’ve never ridden against a horse like him, and probably never will again,” he said. “The way he went through that race at Goodwood was unreal. He beat a good field and made us look like three-mile chasers at halfway. When he’s in that form, there’s not a sprinter in the world who could beat him.
“He took me on about halfway and my lad faced him down, but at no stage could I get a breather in and he was just flat to the boards all the way. If you go chasing Battaash, there’s only one place you are going to end up and that’s on the floor, but I can’t rethink [my tactics] a whole lot, because Havana Grey loves being on the front end. We dropped him in one day and he hated it and ran a stinker, so what can you do?
“You just have to hope that the real Battaash doesn’t show up. He stropped at York before and it’s a tricky place. Your horses need to be mentally sound there. There’s a long walk across and a lot going on. They are leaving their stables something like 50 minutes before they run and he can get himself beat.”
However, sportingly, McDonald wants Battaash to show his true colours. “I hope he does behave himself because racing needs horses like him,” he said. “People get attached to horses like him and get out to see them, which is good for the game, even though it’s no good for me when I’m in the pack trying to chase him down!”
Blue Point, trained by Charlie Appleby, beat Battaash in the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot in June, but he has since disappointed in the Darley July Cup at Newmarket and is officially rated 7lb inferior.
Michael Dods saddled rapid mare Mecca’s Angel to win the 2015 and 2016 renewals of the Nunthorpe, and he is this time represented by Mabs Cross, who was third in the King’s Stand Stakes. Other runners include the Julie Camacho-trained Judicial, who carries the colour