Why the Nunthorpe Stakes looks a race for all ages this season

It seems as though all the world and his wife want to take on Battaash and be among Nunthorpe Stakes runners in 2020.

York’s premier 5f sprint contest is one of the highlights of the Ebor Festival and three Group 1s held there during it. If all the opposition that is talking about heading to the Knavesmire actually turns up on 21 August, then it will be some race. Major horse racing festivals need this sense of competition.

True, the Ebor has that with its eponymous Heritage Handicap staged some 24 hours after the Nunthorpe. That race is handicap in all but name with horses needing to have a rating well into the 100s to get a run.

But enough about the British equivalent of the Melbourne Cup. Such is the strength of potential opposition for Battaash from potential Nunthorpe Stakes runners that bookmakers like William Hill have him odds against now from long odds-on.

Fancy that. A course and distance winner in scintillating style last year actually albeit fractionally better than evens in places to repeat the dose. Battaash bolted up in sprinting terms with a 3 3/4 lengths win on the Knavesmire.

Think Usain Bolt levels of daylight between himself and the nearest of 10 rivals. The weight-for-age given to three-year-olds isn’t much, just a couple of pounds in fact but juveniles receive the best part of two stone.

Now, there is a challenge for King’s Stand Stakes scorer Battaash. There are no early closing entries for Group 1s in this most unique of seasons, but just who are the possible Nunthorpe Stakes runners against him? Let’s take a look at the new threats.

Oxted (July Cup)

Horse racing is about making brave decisions, and there was none braver than when Roger Teal opted to miss Royal Ascot with Oxted. Through tender handling, this progressive four-year-old gelding has gone from handicapping to Group 1 glory in less than a year.

Oxted won the Portland Handicap at Yorkshire’s other major course, Doncaster, during the St Leger Festival last September. When he took the step up in class on reappearance to Group 3 company and landed the Abernant Stakes, connections must have been tempted.

Teal always had the July Cup in mind for Oxted rather than Royal Ascot, though. That plan came off in spades when he ran on strongly to capture the feature midsummer sprint and highlight of Newmarket’s July Festival at odds of 12/1.

Given the way Oxted stayed on so well in that 6f contest, it is a little surprising that he is as short as 5/1 in places for the Nunthorpe. You can get a best-price 7/1 ante post with Boylesports about him for York, though.

Even the Portland is an extended 5f, so Oxted has never actually tried the minimum trip before. His sire, Mayson, had a very respectable record at that distance, though, winning two of seven starts and placing no worse than fourth.

What Mayson achieved over 6f, something his son Oxted emulated in the July Cup, is what he’s best known for. The apple may not fall far from the tree with his son too.

Oxted travels well enough, but Nunthorpe Stakes runners need a blink and you’ll miss them turn of foot. Although he has improved 15lb in the eyes of the handicapper from the Portland, that still leaves him with something to find on official figures with Battaash off level weights.

Art Power (Palace Of Holyroodhouse)

Another progressive type from handicaps into Group company is the King Power Racing owned Art Power. Trained by Tim Easterby in Yorkshire, this three-year-old Dark Angel colt has won four of his five starts.

Art Power won the Palace Of Holyroodhouse Handicap easing down by 3 1/2 lengths on his penultimate start. Whether that age restricted Royal Ascot sprint was a one-off or not remains to be seen. What is unusual, however, is to see an ultra-competitive race won in such fashion.

That put Art Power on a hat-trick which he completed on his first start in Ireland in the Group 3 Lacken Stakes. He readily accounted for the useful Millisle, a winner since, under a hands and heels ride at Naas. Art Power is already a course and distance winner, albeit in novice company, on the Knavesmire too.

It’s clear that he fits into the well above average category. The scope Art Power retains for further progress is huge. He is half the age of Battaash and connections are giving him time to get over his first trip to the Emerald Isle.

There has been some talk of Glorious Goodwood and an early showdown in the King George Stakes. That Group 2 sprint is usually Battaash’s prep run for York, so avoiding a clash makes sense.

While Betfair aren’t quoting Oxted among Nunthorpe Stakes runners right now, they offer 13/2 about Art Power. He only gets 2lb weight-for-age from his elders but is clearly worth a crack against them. There is nothing left for him against fellow three-year-olds, so Art Power looks among the likely Nunthorpe Stakes runners.

A’Ali (Coral Charge and Sapphire Stakes)

When you’ve won four Group 2 races like A’Ali, then it’s time to try elite company. Simon and Ed Crisford’s charge left his reappearance run well behind him. Perhaps the three-year-old Society Rock colt needed the run or didn’t like the artificial surface at Newcastle.

When switched back to turf, A’Ali took a competitive renewal of the Group 3 Coral Charge on Eclipse day at Sandown. While the keenness of favourite Liberty Beach helped his cause, this was a comfortable length win under Frankie Dettori.

A’Ali has since made a successful raid over to Ireland and plundered the Group 2 Sapphire Stakes. Four of his five wins have come over the flying 5f, so the trip is no problem for him.

He also looks pretty versatile ground wise, although A’Ali didn’t act at all on heavy in the Prix Morny. With its proclivity for flooding, the Crisfords will hope that rain stays away so that the nearby banks of the River Ouse don’t burst and swamp the Knavesmire.

A bit of weight from Battaash assists A’Ali, but there is probably still plenty to find. The bookies assess his claims differently as William Hill are a best-price 14/1, but he’s as short as 8/1 elsewhere.

With a good record at the trip, there is plenty of time before a return to the Emerald Isle. Irish Champions Weekend in September and the Flying Five at The Curragh is also on the list of A’Ali targets.

Make no mistake, though. Taking York in en route won’t just be him making up the numbers of Nunthorpe Stakes runners. A’Ali is well worth another try at Group 1 level.

Frenetic (First Flier Stakes)

Ger Lyons is rolling with the punches in Ireland and taking more than his fair share of big races. Even So’s triumph in the Irish Oaks was a second Emerald Isle Classic of the campaign for the County Meath handler. He has since raised the possibility of another filly, Frenetic, going to York.

Although beaten when headed close home by a 33/1 outsider in a Group 2 last time out, this juvenile filly by Kodiac already has some black type. Frenetic landed a Navan maiden and followed-up at Listed level in the First Flier Stakes.

After just three career starts, she could be anything. Among potential Nunthorpe Stakes runners, Frenetic is unique in that she would get maximum weight-for-age and sex allowances. What would you rather carry: 8st or 9st 11lb?

Frenetic is also a third of the age of Battaash. Three of the last five Nunthorpe winners have been females, so it’s not tilting at windmills to try. She ranges in price from 14/1 down to 8/1.

Golden Pal and The Lir Jet (Norfolk Stakes)

A couple of juvenile colts that fought out the finish of the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes could re-oppose on the Knavesmire. Golden Pal went down fighting in Berkshire, but the American raider remains in Europe this summer.

Wesley Ward loves having runners at the royal meeting yet keeps this son of Uncle Mo across the pond. Golden Pal, like stable companion Campanelle, will have options, though.

Qualifying one or other for the Breeders’ Cup is the obvious goal. The Nunthorpe is among the win and you’re in series for Keeneland in November. Golden Pal is a top-price 10/1 with BetVictor for victory at York.

Qatar Racing are becoming a bigger force as global owners, and Norfolk winner The Lir Jet is their latest talent. A step up in trip for the Prix Robert Papin just failed to see him land the hat-trick.

This Prince Of Lir colt is trained by Michael Bell and, like Golden Pal, would get lumps of weight from Battaash. You can’t say that The Lir Jet didn’t stay 6f, but nor is dropping back to the minimum trip a problem. He is a general 20/1 to win at York.

The last two-year-old to win the Nunthorpe was back in 2007 and before that, 1992. That proves it can be done, albeit rarely. Not all of these juveniles are guaranteed Nunthorpe Stakes runners, but race terms do all they can to entice them.

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