Despite the Nunthorpe Stakes shaping up into a mouthwatering affair, connections of defending champion Battaash first have their sights set on a fourth successive victory in the King George Qatar Stakes at Goodwood.
Charlie Hills’ speedster has looked unbeatable on the Sussex Downs, with the downhill five-furlong track playing to his strengths.
However, there will be plenty of new challengers queuing up to take him on at York, if, as many expect, he comes through Goodwood unscathed next week.
In recent days the three-year-olds A’Ali and Art Power have been confirmed for the Knavesmire – and there are even juveniles of the calibre of Golden Pal, The Lir Jet and Frenetic set to take advantage of the huge weight allowance given to two-year-olds.
“There’s been lots of talk about the Nunthorpe, but it’s Goodwood first,” said owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s racing manager, Angus Gold.
“Goodwood certainly plays to his strengths down that hill. I don’t want to jeopardise anything, but in previous years his speed has killed them off by halfway.
“If he’s in good form he has to have every chance, obviously.
“Come the Nunthorpe it will be a different challenge as it looks as if there could be a few two-year-olds this year – but that is what you do it for. It’s nice to have the problem to worry about.
“We’ve had so much fun with this horse, he owes us nothing. He’s been a star, so we’ll take each race as it comes, hope he can win at Goodwood and then see if he is in good shape heading to York.”
In his younger days Battaash was prone to get upset and disappoint on the odd occasion, but he has seemingly mellowed with age and racing behind closed doors is no disadvantage, as he showed when winning the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot.
“I’m not going to say racing behind closed doors makes all the difference, as he’s won in front of big crowds, but it’s not a negative for him,” said Gold, who added that no decision on a Breeders’ Cup bid has been made.
“We genuinely haven’t discussed the Breeders’ Cup yet, as with him we have to take one race at a time. For the last three years we’ve gone to France (for the Prix de l’Abbaye), he’s won it once, gone close once and then ran terribly last year, so we just have to see how he is,” he said.
“If he’s still in good form come that time of year, we can worry about going abroad.
“He’s six, but from what we saw at Ascot he’s certainly not slowing down yet – he looked to have retained all his speed.”