Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes (Group 1) | 5f | 2yo+ | ITV/RTV
Battaash's traditional Nunthorpe warm-up at Goodwood went smoothly for the third year running, but trainer Charlie Hills hopes a slight tweak to the rapid gelding's preparation can help him end his York hoodoo.
Battaash, photo Liesl King
Brilliant at his best, the bullet-like Battaash is yet to fully fire in the Nunthorpe with fourth-placed finishes the last two years after explosive displays in the Qatar King George Stakes at Goodwood.
However, travel arrangements have been altered, while his camp were mindful of getting the job done in the King George without compromising their star's chances in this £400,000 event.
"We'll take him up in the morning rather than the night before," the Lambourn-based Hills said on Thursday.
"He likes his routine, so it's got to be a plus if he stays in his own stable the night before, while we'll box him across to the course before the race.
"The last two years he's looked mightily impressive at Goodwood, but we didn't really want to give him a smack this year. He still recorded a fast time, but we didn't want to ask him for a massive effort."
Hills is also taking heart from the five-year-old's draw in stall one.
"He's drawn on the other side from where he's been the last two years, which could be a good thing," he added. "It's an intriguing race – one I'm looking forward to – and it's a Group 1, which means nothing is easy.
"That said, I don't think I could be more pleased with him. He looks fantastic. He's been there twice before and knows what he's coming for, but it'd just be nice for him to get his head in front at York."
Battaash's stablemate Garrus has won at York, striking in a Listed event at the Dante meeting.
"He's just been a little slow away in his last couple of races, but we've done a bit of work at home on that and he jumped out great a couple of days ago," Hills said.
"He's got ability and I think he's got a big future next year in this type of race, so he could run into a place. We've thought and spoken about six furlongs, but if he breaks on terms he should be okay over five."
Aidan O'Brien has a blueprint when it comes to Nunthorpe winners, which Darley July Cup hero Ten Sovereigns is following to the letter.
Stravinsky and Mozart were tried over further than sprint distances at three, but dropped back to land July Cups and then follow up in the Nunthorpe. Ten Sovereigns has the final leg still to do, but has leading claims.
"He seems to be in good form and obviously we were delighted with him at Newmarket," O'Brien said. "He's been very good since the July Cup and this is his first time at this trip but we never thought it would be a problem for him."
Fairyland, successful in last year's Lowther at the Ebor meeting and third behind Ten Sovereigns in the July Cup, and Group 3 winner So Perfect, fifth at Newmarket, also represent Ballydoyle.
O'Brien added: "Fairyland is in good form and she had a good run over this trip at Ascot in the King's Stand. So Perfect is in good form as well."
Michael Dods won the Nunthorpe in 2015 and 2016 thanks to Mecca's Angel, but he may feel another slipped away after Mabs Cross agonisingly lost out by a wafer-thin margin to Alpha Delphini last year.
The classy mare is back for more and performed right up to scratch when fourth in the King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot last time out.
"She's in great form and good ground suits her," Dods said.
"With Ten Sovereigns and Battaash in there it's a tough race on paper, but I'd say she's at her best. We're happy with her and she looks great. She ran a similar race at Ascot as she did last year and we've followed a similar route.
"She's not had an away day since Ascot, but the gallops we've got are stiff and we're satisfied with her fitness, while it was always the plan to come here after Royal Ascot."
Darlington trainer Dods may also field the useful Intense Romance, and added: "She's up in class, but needs rain. We'll see what happens with the ground before making a decision on whether she runs."
If the now-retired Blue Point is the best sprinter of 2019, Soldier's Call's third behind him in the King's Stand could easily put the Clipper Logistics-owned three-year-old in the mix.
The smart front-runner, a solid third behind Garrus at York in May, was not at his best in July's Friarstown Stud Sapphire Stakes at the Curragh, but trainer Archie Watson said: "He's in very good order and I'm very happy with him.
"He lost a front shoe in his last race in Ireland, which wouldn't have helped. We're going to go forward so the draw doesn't really matter."
Despite now being a six-year-old, El Astronaute has appeared better than ever this season, winning a Listed race at Cork before a big handicap success in the Rockingham at the Curragh.
Twice in the winner's enclosure at York, he did not shine behind Battaash in the King George but trainer John Quinn thinks there was a reason for that.
He said: "He's got lots of course form and it's a hot race, but he does like York and seems in good order, so we're hopeful.
"He was fifth behind Battaash at Goodwood last time, but I think I may have ran him back too quickly after the Curragh the time before."
Rumble Inthejungle, a talented juvenile last year, was another to see Battaash's rear end at Goodwood, but Richard Spencer is optimistic of a positive display.
"He was unlucky at Goodwood as he was probably further back than we and Frankie [Dettori] wanted him to be," the Newmarket trainer said of last year's Molecomb winner.
"He gave quite a bit of ground away at the start, so to finish fourth and make that ground up was very eyecatching. I think he's really coming to himself now and that was a good performance.
"With a better start, I think he'd have finished closer at Goodwood and the fast five at York should suit him, while he's hopefully going there in good order.
"We're drawn in ten next to Ten Sovereigns and Battaash is in one, but I think they'll congregate up the middle and hopefully there won't be too much of a bias. Oisin Murphy is up and he's riding really well, with a lot of confidence, so we're pleased to have him on board and are looking forward to it."
Connections of Copper Knight are banking on his fondness for the Knavesmire, but appreciate the five-year-old faces a tough task.
His York form reads 106001131 and Tim Palin, representing part-owners Middleham Park, said: "It's like the third-round draw of the FA Cup. He's been drawn at home against one of the big boys, but at least he is playing at home. It's a fiercely competitive race and a privilege to have a runner in it.
"Whether we can do any damage is another thing. If it was soft ground I'd have been hopeful, but the weather gods have delivered what they have. We're not confident, but at least we've a home draw."
Battaash will not be hanging about and nor will another of his Goodwood victims Ornate, who was also beaten by a second Charlie Hills sprinter in Khaadem in the Unibet Stewards' Cup a day after the King George.
David Griffiths is not worrying about that though. He said: "You can forget the Stewards' Cup run as he just went too quick, but I was delighted with him the day before in the King George Stakes at Goodwood, finishing behind Battaash and Houtzen, but beating the rest convincingly enough.
"The likes of Rumble Inthejungle, El Astronaute and Copper Knight couldn't really get a blow in and our fellow has come out of that really good. He's just where we want him. If Battaash turns up, we can't beat him, but the positive is he sometimes doesn't turn up at York."
Griffiths, who has a fine touch with sprinters, added: "I'm happy with our draw in three and we'll jump and do what we do – he's quick out and we'll just go in a straight line. I thought the ground was on the slower side of good on Wednesday and I hope it dries out to genuine good to firm. He goes on easy, but is a lot better on fast ground."