David Ord on whether he's for or against the six Royal Ascot bankers next week, including Battaash in the King's Stand Stakes on day one.
It boils down to this. Will the Batmobile have sufficient petrol left in the tank to fend off Blue Point in the final 100 yards of the King’s Stand?
He didn’t in 2017, but then he had showed blistering raw early speed to destroy American raider Lady Aurelia, so it’s little surprise the well was empty when Blue Point came calling. There’s no such early pace threat this time around and he produced a more controlled display when winning the Temple Stakes (more impressively than last year albeit with a Group One penalty) on his Haydock reappearance.
Plenty of positives then.
But there are negatives too. For all his brilliance, and three of his performances would mark him out as the best five furlong sprinter for some time, he’s always vulnerable.
Three defeats in five races last term, no Group One win since his Abbaye demolition of 2017. When he’s good, he’s very good, but there’s no hint of invincibility.
And those three stand-out performances came at Chantilly and Goodwood twice, courses where raw speed prevails. The stiff five at Ascot will always be a worry.
Can he win? Of course. Will he? Probably. Banker material? No.
VERDICT: BLOWOUT 🌬️
PHOENIX OF SPAIN
Here’s an interesting one. He was a good two-year-old, no a very good one. But not the best of his generation. That gong went to Too Darn Hot who firmly put Charlie Hills’ upstart in his place when beating him a length-and-three-quarters in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster.
He got closer to Magna Grecia in the Vertem Futurity back at Town Moor, much closer, going down by only a head to the subsequent QIPCO 2000 Guineas hero.
But it’s amazing what a winter can do. Fast-forward to the Curragh on May 2 and Phoenix Of Spain took handsome revenge on both, beating Too Darn Hot by three lengths as he ran away with the Irish 2,000 Guineas on his first start at three.
Magna Grecia was just over two-and-a-half lengths further adrift in fifth and clearly wasn’t at his best while Too Darn Hot was making a swift return to the track having run in the Dante the previous week.
Both the O’Brien and Gosden camps will have reason to think they can finish closer at Ascot – but they’ll do well to repeat their 2017 superiority over the grey son of Lope De Vega.
There was no element of a fluke about his performance in Ireland, he went with zest through the race and quickly put it to bed when given the office approaching the final furlong. He looked by some distance the best colt in the race and can underline that fact here.
VERDICT: BANKER 💷
SEA OF CLASS
Here's a fascinating one. The daughter of Sea The Stars was one of the stories of last season, progressing from a narrow defeat on her debut at the Craven Meeting to run out a fast-finishing second to Enable in the Arc.
The sectional times – and visual impression on the day – suggested she was the best horse in the race at ParisLongchamp.
The journey from Suffolk to the city of love took in two Listed wins at Newbury and victories in the Irish and Yorkshire Oaks. She’s a top-class filly.
But the progression – and the Group One form – all came at a mile-and-a-half. She’s being asked to switch back to ten furlongs here against established stars. William Haggas is pleased with her preparation and points to the fact she has the priceless ability to quicken, something only the very best possess.
Chief threat Magical heads to Ascot at the very top of her game, winning three times already this term including the Tattersalls Gold Cup. This is much, much deeper but she’s race-fit and full of confidence.
Crystal Ocean is still chasing a first Group One success and is likely to be pointed here rather than to the Hardwicke which he won last year. He’s equally effective at this trip but you fear susceptible to anything with a finishing kick.
Waldgeist wasn’t far behind Sea Of Class when fourth in the Arc and started this campaign in style with a clear-cut win in the Prix Ganay – but he too has more form over a mile-and-a-half.
Then there’s Masar. We haven’t seen him since he beat Dee Ex Bee and Roaring Lion in last year’s Investec Derby. He’s giving the Godolphin team all the right signs at home but has yet to run at ten furlongs. It would be some training performance to have him cherry-ripe here.
That comment also applies to Haggas and Sea Of Class. I’d be amazed if she failed on fitness grounds and while her giant leaps forward last term came over further, she has speed and class to be equally effective over this trip.
She’ll surely be too quick for Crystal Ocean and Waldgeist which leaves the race-fit Magical and returning Masar as the dangers.
It’s fascinating, and I think her turn of foot will again prove decisive but with the question marks against her – she’s not banker material.
VERDICT: A reluctant BLOWOUT 🌬️
Bidding for his third successive win at Royal Ascot – having landed the Queen's Vase of 2017 and last year's Gold Cup. Much was made of his millionaire status last term after scooping the Weatherbys Londsale wonga but his dominance of the staying division was more than that.
He became the first Gold Cup winner to go through a campaign unbeaten since 1968 and the full campaign took in the Yorkshire Cup, Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup, Londsdale Cup and QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup.
His best performance came at Ascot – it had to – for it was there he was in deepest against Vazirabad, Torcedor and Order Of St George, none of whom he was to face again.
He started 2019 with…you’ve guessed it…a win, again in the Yorkshire Cup. It was quite hard work against Southern France but he was well on top at the line and will be three pounds better off with that rival here.
But there are bigger threats. Cross Counter added the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan to his Melbourne Cup success and looks ready to play a part in the big staying races in Europe. Dee Ex Bee has gone up in trip to win the Sagaro and Henry II this season and remains unexposed over staying distances.
Kew Gardens looked to have the Investec Coronation Cup firmly in his grasp only to be cut down late by Defoe. He won the William Hill St Leger last season and if he gets this trip he’d be a huge threat. But in the immediate aftermath of his Epsom defeat it was the King George not the Gold Cup that was at the forefront of Aidan O’Brien’s mind.
So Cross Counter and Dee Ex Bee are likely to be the two new pretenders to the throne – but this king doesn’t look for shifting.
Stradivarius finds a way of getting the job done. He’ll do so again on Thursday week.
VERDICT: BANKER 💷
The absence of Calyx has completely changed the complexion of this race, although his thumping Haydock defeat at the hooves of Hello Youmzain had started the process.
So all-of-a-sudden Ten Sovereigns is a 6/4 chance to claim a second Group One prize. And he deserves to be.
He only had half-a-length in hand of the reopposing Jash in the Middle Park but his superiority was greater than that margin suggests and it marked a very pleasing end to his three-race juvenile career.
He reappeared in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas and was a patent non-stayer in finishing fifth to Magna Grecia, losing two places in the closing stages. Sprinting was always going to be the son of No Nay Never’s game and he’s going to get the chance to burn here.
Hello Youmzain and Jash are smart colts but need to take a step forward to beat the favourite – and in truth he’s the one with the scope, both physically and mentally, to take his rating northwards.
Everything Ten Sovereigns did at two – and on his Newmarket reappearance – pointed to him being a star sprinter. Let the reign begin.
VERDICT: BANKER 💷
A 14/1 winner of the QIPCO 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, she took her form to a different level when thumping Pretty Pollyanna by four lengths in the Irish equivalent three weeks later. She’s a filly on a roll and any further progress would make her hard to beat.
It’s difficult to make a convincing case as to why any of those vanquished at Newmarket or the Curragh can reverse the form here but there are three left-field rivals thundering into view.
First up there’s the unbeaten Castle Lady, winner of all three starts in France including the French 1000 Guineas at Longchamp last time. She scrambled home there, beating Commes a nose, but she’s a work in progress.
She was too keen until belatedly finding cover and it has to be factored in that she only saw a racecourse for the first time two months ago.
Then there’s Jubiloso, another unbeaten filly who was unraced at two. She’s only had two starts to date, winning at Chelmsford on debut before putting her field to the sword in a Newbury novice stakes.
She won by seven lengths there form a subsequent winner (albeit one who finished fourth off 86 on his handicap debut too). By Shamardal out of a half-sister to Frankel, it’s all about style over substance with her so far. But it’s some style.
Then there’s Maqsad who shaped as though the best filly in the Investec Oaks before her stamina gave way from the two furlong marker. She travelled so well she looked every inch a Group One filly and while dropping back to a mile means this is a very different test, it could easily be one she’ll relish.
Throw in racing around a bend too and there are reasons to think Hermosa is in deeper than for either Classic here.
VERDICT: BLOWOUT 🌬️