(Published 2nd August, 2018) – There’s always been a soft spot for the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes in this parish. Even allowing for last year’s (punting) heartache as Marsha flew home to deny Lady Aurelia in a proper Knavesmire classic.
Frankie Dettori raised his arms aloft in celebration after the winning post but there was the rapid-fire warning sign as big-race commentator Richard Hoiles so succinctly declared: “Frankie thinks he’s held on … but I’m not so sure!”
His eye from the commentary box was spot on with Marsha earning the judges’ verdict and Dettori left red-faced.
That’s the thing with the Nunthorpe though; sheer drama and fraught tension, unfolding in a high-octane dash across the York turf for which the term ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ was surely invented.
Frankie celebrates… but it's Marsha who wins the Nunthorpe in a photo! Lady Aurelia is beaten by the tiniest margin pic.twitter.com/KK1OjojdE8
— ITV Racing (@itvracing) August 25, 2017
Those leading protagonists from 12 months are now confined to retirement, ensuring new heroes and heroines must emerge in this helter-skelter five-furlong dash.
Borderlescott, Sole Power, and the fabulous Mecca’s Angel have all starred as dual winners of the Nunthorpe in recent years, but a new star must be crowned this time.
Can Battaash Smash The Rest?
Fastest of all the contenders, on his day, might just be Battaash, the clear favourite (7/4 with Paddy Power) for this race despite last year’s York boil over.
Earlier in his career Charlie Hills’ speedster had a reputation for getting worked up in the preliminaries. Such antics are of course the scourge of a sprinter and they tend to wipe out all hopes before the gates are even opened.
Battaash has settled more in recent times, as figures 11141-12 since the start of last season show. It must be a concern that his worst run during the sequence came in this very race a year ago. Was it the track, or the York atmosphere that proved his undoing? Adding to the negatives, his only Group 1 victory came on soft ground in France when he routed the aforementioned Marsha at Chantilly late last season.
Battaash was officially the best five-furlong sprinter in the world last year – watch @cbhills interview with @_tomstanley_ at https://t.co/sfTlJOV6rV ahead of his reappearance in the #TempleStakes at Haydock today ?https://t.co/pXMdl5Q917 pic.twitter.com/ZPx0gPuiJk
— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) May 26, 2018
In the King’s Stand at Ascot this season, Battaash appeared to go too hard in front, with Jim Crowley either unwilling or unable to reel him back and get him settled. It contributed to him being a sitting duck late on as Blue Point eased past him for victory. Battaash has got the straight-line speed to win a Nunthorpe – we can say that without fear of contradiction – but there are many intangibles with the son of Dark Angel and, given those factors, it is hard to be wading in behind him ante-post at the current prices.
Struggle For The Boys In Blue
We’ve witnessed one Godolphin drought end this summer as Charlie Appleby won the Derby at Epsom with Masar. The Nunthorpe has been another source of frustration for Sheikh Mohammed and his operation, with no victory in the York sprint since Frankie Dettori steered home So Factual some 23 years ago.
Blue Point, trained by Appleby, looks the strongest contender for Godolphin and is hovering at as big as 7/1 with Betfred for the Nunthorpe.
No Royal Ascot hat-trick from Lady Aurelia, not her day.
It's dfficult to make all in a G1 so great effort from Battash.
Blue Point was guided perfectly into the race in behind, then able to finish fastest. Probably just what Battash wanted to do.pic.twitter.com/oVmEbJXSTV
— James Stevens (@JamesStevens180) June 19, 2018
His King’s Stand success was a standout performance and one that showcased his ability to be right from the top drawer on his day. Next time out however he didn’t have Battaash setting breakneck fractions in front of him and, racing keenly, he couldn’t sustain his effort in the July Cup at Newmarket won by US Navy Flag.
Five of Blue Point’s six career successes have come over 6f, ensuring there is still room for plenty debate as to whether or not this race will be the correct test for him, despite the impressive nature of his Royal Ascot success. If getting a lead once more, he would surely have claims at the death.
Another potential contender in the iconic blue silks is Dreamfield, for John Gosden. He’s well thought of by the Clarehaven maestro and was backed off the boards at Royal Ascot to win the Wokingham before finishing a noble second. Like Blue Point, he was beaten in the July Cup and also has questions to answer if dropping back to the minimum trip.
The Nunthorpe now carries the Coolmore name as title-sponsor but, like their rivals at Godolphin, this isn’t a contest that has yielded rich dividends.
Aidan O’Brien, in fact, last trained the winner in 2001 when Mozart had everyone dancing to his tune on the Knavesmire.
July Cup winner US Navy Flag seems unlikely to come here, with a target in Australia later in the season seemingly his main priority, though a run here would still leave ample time to get ready for The Everest.
SIOUX NATION is available at odds of 12/1 with Betfair for this race and still holds appeal.
ICYMI: Sioux Nation won yesterday's Group 1 Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh. Will he be a classic contender next year? pic.twitter.com/IaDen6WUng
— Timeform (@Timeform) August 14, 2017
He is by Scat Daddy and should therefore be blessed with more than his fair share of pace. This season has yet to truly catch fire for the Ballydoyle colt, despite a Group 3 success in the Lacken Stakes at Naas in May.
From there it was off to the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, where he was a well-backed favourite but ran no sort of race as Eqtidaar scored. The July Cup at Newmarket was a step in the right direction and showed that Sioux Nation is not far off what is required in this exalted company.
He has at all times looked a real speedy sort and, winner of the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot last summer on decent ground, he is one that would certainly pique interest should he be dropped back to this 5f test. He could well surprise a few and go close to give his trainer a first Nunthorpe success in 17 years.
The second one that I like in the ante-post list is Karl Burke’s HAVANA GREY, who returned to his best form to spring a surprise in the Group Two Sapphire Stakes at the Curragh last month.
A Group 3 winner as a youngster, Havana Grey had failed to trouble the judge in his two previous runs this season but got his act together in the five-furlong dash and readily fended off Caspian Prince and Mabs Cross for his success there.
— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) July 22, 2018
That performance on the galloping track in Ireland stands out as in improved showing and suggests there’s a decent chance the three-year-old has come on again since being beaten just over four-lengths by Battaash in the Temple Stakes at Haydock earlier in the season. Havana Grey is a consistent and reliable sprinter and, with the Group Two prize under his belt, would deserve a clip at a prize of this nature and makes appeal at 14/1 with bet365.
Caspian Prince and Mabs Cross could also show up at York, both are priced similarly and in many cases shorter than Havana Grey having been beaten fair and square last time by a potential improver. At a massive 50/1 with Betbright, perhaps Henry de Bromhead’s Gorane, just 2½ lengths behind them last time in Ireland, might be capable of stepping up and landing some place money should he take up his engagement.
In all probability, Battaash and Blue Point are the pair to focus on if they line-up in this race. Both however have enough doubts to be looking elsewhere right now for an interest in the Nunthorpe.
Written by Enda McElhinney
Enda McElhinney is an Irish-based racing writer with an increasing portfolio of work on British and Irish racing. His daily routine is race-by-race form analysis, both on the Flat and over jumps. While the racing world must keep on turning, he is quite sure that no horse will ever pull at his heartstrings quite as much as the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Denman.