One of the most exciting turf sprinters in the Northern Hemisphere, Shadwell Stable's Battaash earned his spot in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint with an impressive victory in the “Win and You’re In” Group 1 Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes in England.
His connections confirmed the race is on the gelding’s radar, which makes it the perfect time to get to know Battaash, who looks to be one of the favorites in the race on Nov. 2.
Battaash hasn’t been the most straightforward horse to train for Charlie Hills, who admits he has had challenges with the gelding.
Battaash won his debut by four lengths as a 2-year-old in May of 2016 but his behavior earned him the ultimate equipment change only one start later. After finishing 12th in the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot, Battaash was visited by the vet and gelded – a move that didn’t totally curb his bad-boy behavior but did help him focus a bit more.
The new gelding returned three months later and reeled off the first of three third-place finishes. His first stakes-placing came when he lost to Mrs Danvers by two lengths in the Group 3 Newmarket Academy Godolphin Beacon Project Cornwallis Stakes to end his 2-year-old season.
Battaash looked like a whole new horse when he returned the following June to win the listed Randox Health Scurry Stakes in his 3-year-old debut. It was the first of three consecutive stakes victories for Battaash, culminating with the Group 2 King George Qatar Stakes. But his quirky behavior got the best of him in the 2017 Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes when he acted up before the race, as he was only able to finish 5 ¼ lengths behind Marsha in fourth. He avenged that loss in France a little more than a month later when beating Marsha by four lengths while winning his first Group 1 in the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp Longines.
Battaash returned the following May and had to work hard to win the Group 2 Armstrong Aggregates Temple States. The then 4-year-old broke slowly and it took until the final 25 yards of the five-furlong race for him to collar Washington DC and win by a head. He wasn’t so lucky at Royal Ascot in the Group 1 King’s Stand when facing one of the best sprinters of his generation in Blue Point. Worked up before the race, Battaash was keen in the running and wasn’t able to hold off his rival in the closing strides, finishing second by 1 ¾ lengths.
He returned to his winning ways in his next start when he easily won his second King George Qatar Stakes by four lengths as a prep for the 2018 Nunthorpe. Yet bad luck for his connections struck again when Battaash finished fourth by 2 ½ lengths in that year’s running. He ended his season in France again but this time suffered another heartbreaking loss when he led and was collared in the final furlong to finish fourth by only a half-length.
This year, Battaash has stepped up to a new level since his return in late May for his 5-year-old season. He beat Group 1 winner Alpha Delphini in the Temple Stakes to start off his season. One of the favorites for the King’s Stand, Battaash again had to concede defeat to Blue Point when he lost by 1 ¼ lengths to that foe in this year’s running of the race.
While Blue Point headed off to retirement after winning two Group 1s at Royal Ascot this year, Battaash has been on a tear through England. He beat a field that included Australian invader Houtzen in his third straight Group 2 King George Qatar Stakes win in early August, and then it was back to York for the Nunthorpe.
Battaash was saddled at the barn before the race then trailered over to keep him as calm as possible before the race. While he did get a little worked up, it wasn’t enough stop him winning this year.
Battaash was placed in third early in the five-furlong race by Jim Crowley but took control of the race inside the final two furlongs. It was all over from there as Battaash pulled away to win by 3 ¾ lengths over Soldier’s Call in a course-record time of :55.90, a record previously set by his owner’s own Dayjur in 1990.
"Fantastic,” trainer Hills told Racing TV after the race. “All the chat saying he doesn't like York and he's broken the track record, and that's Dayjur's track record as well. I was really pleased with the draw and Jim gave him an absolute peach of a ride. He got a lovely tow in there. This is some horse – he's seriously fast. He's obviously been gelded so we can come back here again next year I'd love to go to Ireland [for the Flying Five Stakes at the Curragh] with him in a few weeks and then hopefully go to France and why not the Breeders’ Cup.”
Battaash has proven that he can easily win at the five-furlong distance of this year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, and the race has been taken off Santa Anita’s downhill turf course and moved onto its main turf course – another plus for the gelding.
If Battaash wins the Turf Sprint, he’ll be the first European-trained horse to visit the winner’s circle in the race. The gelding’s biggest competitor looks like World of Trouble, although World of Trouble’s participation in the race is currently in doubt with a foot issue sidelining him. Two-time Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Stormy Liberal is also aiming for the race, but he’ll have to step up quite a bit from the form he’s shown so far this year to pose a serious threat to Battaash.
The biggest concern about Battaash may be how he handles shipping to Southern California and a potentially boisterous crowd on Breeders’ Cup day. He is obviously maturing and the Breeders’ Cup crowd should be no problem after running at big meets in Europe, but he has never shipped this far before. Even if he is a bit off his game, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than World of Trouble beating him as long as he doesn’t have a total meltdown.
Battaash is by Dark Angel, one of the top sprinting stallions in Europe. A Group 1 winner at six furlongs, Dark Angel is also the sire of 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf third-place finisher Birchwood and six Group 1 winners other than Battaash.
Battaash is the first winner from two starters out of Anna Law, who was unplaced during her racing career but is a half-sister to Group 2 winner Etlaala and three other stakes-placed horses. His dam is also a half-sister to the dam of Group 2 winner and Group 1-placed sprinter Tasleet. There is plenty of speed in this gelding's extended family.
As a proven top-class sprinter, Battaash looks like the total package heading to the Breeders’ Cup. It is fair to question if his behavior will be his undoing at Santa Anita, but it’s hard to imagine his connections would make the decision to ship if they didn’t think he couldn’t handle it. While no European has yet won this race, it looks like Battaash may be the one to end that drought if he runs to his best in November.