It took 29 years, but the five-furlong course record set by Dayjur – which many felt would never be threatened – was broken in blistering style by Battaash in the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes at York.
And with Dayjur running in the same blue and white Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum silks sported by Jim Crowley as he flew down the Knavesmire, it could hardly have been a better day for the record to fall.
For many Dayjur was the best sprinter of the modern era, only denied a win at the Breeders’ Cup – when European challengers were much thinner on the ground – by inexplicably jumping a shadow.
So to see his previously untouchable course best lowered was unthinkable.
But Willie Carson, who rode Dayjur, had intimated to Battaash’s trainer Charlie Hills that if any horse could get near it, then it would be him.
Battaash’s own brilliance has never been in doubt – in winning the King George Stakes at Goodwood for the last three years together with the Prix de l’Abbaye he has shown his blistering pace on many occasions.
However, in his two previous trips to York for this race he had finished fourth twice. First time round he boiled over on the long walk from the stables, while there appeared little excuse 12 months ago.
This time Hills boxed him up from Lambourn on the morning of the race and it clearly suited.
Crowley put the race to bed two furlongs out and then Battaash, the 7-4 second-favourite behind Ten Sovereigns, appeared to quicken again, crossing the line three and three-quarter-lengths clear of Soldier’s Call in a time of 55.90 seconds, knocking nearly three-tenths of a second off the old record.
“That put the York hoodoo to bed in style – he loves York now,” said Hills.
“To lower Dayjur’s record – I never thought that would be beaten, but Willie Carson said if one horse could do it, it was him.
“When you look at York you think it should be ideal for him, but sometimes these sand-based tracks don’t suit some horses. Not all horses handle York, but he’s experienced now and he’s doing everything right.
“Last year we weren’t 100 per cent happy, but this year he’s been great and he’ll go down as one of the fastest horses there’s ever been.”
By ‘only’ winning by three-quarters of a length at Goodwood, one or two suggested Hills may have overdone the calming tactics, but it was all part of the plan with a busy end to the season in the pipeline.
“At Goodwood we were conscious we didn’t want him to have too hard a race – in the two years before we’d maybe given him too hard a time,” said Hills
“I’ll speak to Sheikh Hamdan, but I can’t see why we wouldn’t go for the Flying Five (Curragh), the Abbaye (ParisLongchamp) and maybe the Breeders’ Cup, but we’re conscious not to overdo him with him being a gelding as we hope to have him for a few more years.
“If there’s a year to do all those it is this one, though, and it would be great to go unbeaten the rest of the year. It’s five furlongs the Breeders’ Cup Sprint Turf this year – he should wing round those turns all right!
“When you see him win like that you think how does he ever get beaten, but they are horses and not machines, especially the sprinters. Over 55 seconds you can’t afford anything to go wrong.
“I’ll be honest, part of me wanted to skip this and go to Ireland with him, but Sheikh Hamdan said, ‘No, I’ll be in York, I won’t be in Ireland’.”
For Crowley, a former jump jockey, Battaash will always have a special place in his heart.
“I don’t mind saying that was probably the most enjoyable winner I’ve ever rode in my life,” he said.
“At no stage of the race did I feel I wasn’t going to win. It was brilliant and I’m so glad to silence the few doubters. He’s broken the course record to show what he’s capable of.
“I’m just very lucky to be riding this horse. He’s a real pleasure to be associated with.
“He’s been frustrating, but he’s settling down so much better now. He’s channelling his energy a bit better.”
Angus Gold, racing manager to the owner, was around in the Dayjur years and admitted he has had to rethink his pecking order.
He said: “I’m not going to lie, I wouldn’t have mentioned him in the same breath as Dayjur, but after that performance you’ve got to start thinking about it.
“He’s had a really good year and huge credit goes to all of Charlie’s team. They do a brilliant job with him, as he hasn’t been an easy horse.”