Run for the very first time as a Group 1 contest, the five furlong Flying Five Stakes is sponsored by the Derrinstown Stud and deserves to be graced with a high quality field of speedsters. The race has grown in stature over the last decade, indeed two of the last three renewals have been won by high quality sprinters; the evergreen Sole Power landing this event in 2015, while last year it was Aidan O’Brien’s Caravaggio who added this fine prize to his collection.
One of the biggest challenges is figuring out who is likely to run. In the past there was no top five furlong sprints between the Nunthorpe Stakes in late-August and the Prix de l’Abbaye in early-October, so you knew that most of the best speedballs would run in one and then the other. Now, there is another Group 1 option, so this first renewal of the Curragh prize at the highest level will be fascinating, not the least as we wait to see who pitches up in Ireland for the €350,000 prize money, and who goes on to France. There will surely be a number of horses who take in both big races which are separated by a reasonable three-week gap.
Can Battaash Bounce Back?
It certainly wouldn’t be a great surprise. Following his second poor run in York’s Nunthorpe Stakes in as many years, the obvious conclusion to draw is that Charles Hills’ high-class Battaash (4/1 with Betfair) simply doesn’t like the Knavesmire very much. He had run well when cut down late on by old rival Blue Point in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, then put up one of the visually most impressive performances of the year when slamming some talented sprinters in the Group 2 King George Stakes at Glorious Goodwood.
Unlike the previous year’s Nunthorpe where he got worked up before the start of the race and his head didn’t appear to be in the right place, this time around the son of Dark Angel was relaxed and giving off all the right signals. He raced right up with the pace before edging into the lead over a furlong out, but soon came under pressure and was left behind as Alpha Delphini and MabsCross fought out a memorably close finish. In the end, Battaash had to settle for fourth as Blue Point kept on past him to grab the minor honour.
If it comes up soft at the Curragh (as is often the case in September) that will hold no fears for Battaash, who won both last year’s King George Stakes and Group 1 Prix de l’Abbaye at Chantilly on testing ground. Leaving aside his York phobia, Hills’ gelding has otherwise been a model of consistency so he has to be very much toward the top of anyone’s list for this event.
Blue Has Point To Prove
Godolphin’s Blue Point (7/1 with Paddy Power) landed a memorable success at Royal Ascot in June, stunning many observers by quite comfortably cutting down Battaash – who had seen off the US star Lady Aurelia by that stage – to win the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes going away by a length-and-three-quarters.
Charlie Appleby’s Shamardal colt has won good races at six furlongs, so the stiff five furlongs and a lightning fast pace at Ascot clearly played to his strongest suit. Things didn’t go quite so well when he attempted to follow up in the Group 1 July Cup over six furlongs a few weeks later as he faded inside the final furlong to finish only sixth behind US Navy Flag, having been sent off the 5/2 favourite.
Back at the minimum trip at York last time in the Nunthorpe he ran a rock solid race, staying on inside the distance to catch Battaash, but unable to lay a glove on the first two home. The stiff Curragh tack should suit the Godolphin horse and he looks sure to go well if he takes his chance; the proviso being that he is less effective on easy ground and it would be a surprise if connections chose to run if it came up soft.
Mabs Cross was an agonisingly close second in the Nunthorpe but her trainer Michael Dods has already indicated she will not run in Ireland and will instead be freshened up for a crack at the Prix de l’Abbaye on October 7. Nunthorpe hero Alpha Delphini is not entered for the Flying Five and is also an intended runner in France.
Could It Be Another Grey Day?
Two fast horses who have already shown their respective liking for the Curragh this season are Karl Burke’s Havana Grey, and Michael Appleby’s admirable veteran Caspian Prince. Havana Grey (5/1 with Ladbrokes) beat Caspian Prince by a length over the course and distance in June in receipt of 4lb, but now receives just one pound from his old rival. Since then the Yorkshire-based speedster failed to handle the downhill run at Goodwood in the race dominated by Battaash, but ran really well in the Nunthorpe – indeed, much better than his finishing position indicates.
A huge upset in the @coolmorestud Nunthorpe Stakes!
— York Racecourse (@yorkracecourse) August 24, 2018
In coming home fifth behind Alpha Delphini, PJ McDonald’s regular mount had raced alone on the far side on ground that was probably a touch slower than the centre-to-stands side down which the rest of the field thundered along. The fact that he was still bang on terms with them at the furlong pole and only faded in the last 110 yards to be beaten three lengths reflects really well on this son of Havana Gold.
Back at the Curragh, and versatile as regards underfoot conditions – he won last year’s Molecomb Stakes on soft ground at Glorious Goodwood – Havana Grey should be very much on the premises on September 16.
Caspian Prince (16/1 with Coral) didn’t run well at York when 11th in the Nunthorpe but had run two fine races prior to that when chasing home Havana Grey, and previously when narrowly edged out by Battle Of Jericho (conceding the runner-up 15lb) in the valuable Rockingham Handicap at the Curragh. Prior to that he had won the Scottish Sprint Cup so really has enjoyed a great campaign for a nine-year-old. He seems better than ever this year and won’t be far away if able to get into a rhythm up front – although Battaash might have something to say about that. He was fourth to Caravaggio in this race last year.
Others Worth Considering
Nine of the 28 horses currently engaged in the Flying Five hail from Ballydoyle, but none of them jump out as potential winners. To be honest, given their numerical strength the O’Brien team has struggled this term to find a really high-class five furlong sprinter. It did look as though Sioux Nation might make the grade after he slammed stable companion Fleet Review over six furlong at Naas earlier in the term, but the Scat Daddy colt has failed to reach expectations and has been well beaten on his last two starts over five furlongs at Goodwood and York.
Fleet Review was a fine 50/1 third in the Group 1 Darley July Cup but doesn’t seem as effective over a furlong less, and of the other O’Brien potential runners the five-year-old Washington DC would probably be my pick, as on his day he can be smart – although he does seem to have two ways of running. It will be a surprise of the prize goes back to Ballydoyle this year.
The last two I’ll mention here are Finsbury Square and Take Cover. France’s Finsbury Square (20/1with Coral) is a good sprinter and is at home on testing ground. He was a fine fourth in the 2016 Prix de l’Abbaye behind Marsha, and this term won the Group 2 Prix du Gros-Chene at Chantilly under a hands and heels ride. Just two weeks later he stayed on well to be fourth in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes won by Blue Point on ground that was been plenty fast enough for him. If he crosses the Channel/Irish Sea for this event he would have definite place prospects on soft ground.
And finally, what can you say about old Take Cover (25/1 with Ladbrokes). He’s a star. 11-years-old and still pitching up against the best of them. He was third to Sole Power in this race in 2015 and sixth behind Ardhoomey a year later. Well into the veteran stage, he confounded many pundits in finishing runner-up to Battaash at Goodwood, a track that he simply adores. He’ll run his usual honest race once again and there would be no more popular winner all year, but his old legs probably aren’t quite fast enough for him to trouble the judge this time.
ADVICE: Battaash (4/1 with Betfair)
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.