Will this be the year the skittish Battaash finally breaks through at Royal Ascot? His nemesis for the past two years, Blue Point, is off to the stud barn. And, there will be no crowds – polite and well-dressed as Royal Ascot crowds are – to send his nerves buzzing.
Just relative peace and calm before Battaash storms out of the Ascot starting gates Tuesday.
Battaash owns sprint victories on five tracks, including two at Chantilly. He’s won 10 of his 20 races, and is one of the most dominant sprinters in Europe.
Except when he gets to Ascot. Battaash is 0-for-3 at Ascot, and 0-for-2 in the King’s Stand Stakes, one of two Group (Grade) 1 events on Royal Ascot’s opening day. The five-furlong King’s Stand is Tuesday’s fifth race of seven, and will be simulcast worldwide.
The Queen Anne Stakes is the day’s other Group 1 race. Standout trainer Aidan O’Brien’s Circus Maximus is the one to watch in the 16-horse field, which provides the winner a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Preceding that, and opening Royal Ascot’s meet, is the Buckingham Palace Handicap, with Daarik your favorite in the 27-horse free-for-all.
Tuesday, June 16
- 5:15 a.m. PT — The Buckingham Palace Handicap
- 5:50 a.m. PT — The Queen Anne Stakes (G1) — Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series (TVG Mile)
- 6:25 a.m. PT — The Ribblesdale Stakes (G2)
- 7 a.m. PT — The King Edward VII Stakes (G2)
- 7:35 a.m. PT — The King’s Stand Stakes (G1)
- 8:10 a.m. PT — The Duke of Cambridge Stakes (G2)
- 8:40 a.m. PT — The Ascot Stakes (Handicap)
Frankly Darling, with star jockey Frankie Dettori, is the Group 2 Ribbelsdale Stakes favorite. O’Brien sends out Mogul as the favorite in a six-horse, Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes field.
Nazeef and the Dettori-piloted Wasmya are the two to watch in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes. Wrapping things up is the nearly 2 ½-mile Ascot Stakes, where Ryan Moore will guide the top-weighted favorite in the handicap format, Verdana Blue.
Many of the eyes will be on the blur that is Battaash. That he is one of the world’s elite sprinters is undeniable. The 6-year-old gelding owns $1.79 million in earnings from his 20 races, and he’s hit the board in 15 of them, with two seconds and three thirds accompanying those 10 victories. At last year’s Nunthorpe Stakes at York, Battaash destroyed the 29-year-old race record, covering the five furlongs in a sizzling 55.9 seconds.
‘One of the Fastest Horses That’s Ever Been ….’
His trainer, Charlie Hills, said after the race that Battaash “is one of the fastest horses that’s ever been ….” He ended 2019 with a 126 rating in the World’s Best Racehorse Rankings, making Battaash the No. 5-ranked horse worldwide and the No. 1 sprinter. When Battaash channels that nervous energy, there’s not much wrong with Hills’ logic.
When he doesn’t, however, Hills has his hands full with a horse wound tighter than a Swiss watch. As a juvenile in 2016, Battaash won one race out of five, including a 12th in the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot. His unpredictable temperament and skittish nature led to his gelding. That focused him enough to win four stakes his 3-year-old season, including the prestigious Prix de l’Abbaye at ParisLongchamp.
It was at that race last October, however, where Battaash finished a woeful 14th out of 16 as the odds-on favorite, leading Hills to scrap racing him in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. Battaash hasn’t run since.
Battaash Solved One Puzzle on the Third Try
When it comes to Royal Ascot, two points bear mentioning. The first is Blue Point, who beat Battaash over the past two years, accounting for his two career runner-up finishes. The second goes back to Battaash’s Nunthorpe victory last August. That was Battaash’s third try at York, and it worked like a charm.
This is Battaash’s third try at the King’s Stakes. The odds are 4/6 this Irish gelding finds that lucky charm this time.