Jamie Lynch: York Ebor Festival Preview
Timeform chief correspondent Jamie Lynch looks ahead to the 2017 York Ebor Festival...
"...it's nearly impossible to rationally favour one over the other, but it's nearly impossible to not take a side, either, and, for what little it's worth, my illogical conviction is wholly behind Lady Aurelia, in the brash belief that she'll be the conductor rather than the contender in this gung-ho game of Just a Minute..."
Rare and raw is the catch line for this nuclear Nunthorpe we've got on Friday: raw because it's racing stripped down, to a fast and flat five-furlong footrace; and rare because of the remarkable ratings that both Lady Aurelia and Battaash are bringing, horsepower the like of which has hardly ever been seen in the past - and will hardly ever be seen in the future - in a sprinting shootout.
In Timeform terms, 130 is something of a gateway to greatness, as only the elite equines breathe that air at such high altitude on the ratings scale. In the last 25 years, in Britain and Ireland, 126 horses have hit the heady heights of 130+, and in that time there have been forty races where two or more such top-class thoroughbreds have gone against each other. And how many of those forty races were sprints? Zero.
Not once, in the last quarter of a century, in this part of the world, has there been a five- or six-furlong race featuring more than one 130+ sprinter. Not until now. And the exhilarating element of this cataclysmic clash is that these two aren't just timidly touching the 130 barrier, but they've burst right through it, both Lady Aurelia and Battaash achieving 135, ratings that are as robust as they're rare.
By any and every means of measurement, from their exceptional timefigures (performances purely against the clock) to the visual impressions and the direct formlines of the Group 1 winners they've made look slow, these two are out of this world, but the fact they're in the same orbit - like Arfons and Breedlove - is a miraculous twist of fate, a reason for rejoice, and a reason for rewriting the perceived bounds of speed.
It's normally the contrasts that define a duel, but in this case it's the similarities that are so seductive, of two supersonic three-year-olds at the peak of their powers with pressure points that only each other can press. That's why the Nunthorpe is such an epic engagement. Sprinting is the most dynamic division in racing, and this is the most dynamic race in the division of this year, or the last 25 years, or probably the next 25 years.
So identical in profile and power, it's nearly impossible to rationally favour one over the other, but it's nearly impossible to not take a side, either, and, for what little it's worth, my illogical conviction is wholly behind Lady Aurelia, in the brash belief that she'll be the conductor rather than the contender in this gung-ho game of Just a Minute.
The nuclear Nunthorpe is just one of several conundrums at York this week:
INTERNATIONAL PACE STATION
The big guns are here for the International, in the shape of three stars of the season, Churchill, Barney Roy and Ulysses, whose form is interlinked, yet, despite having raced 25 times between them, it's hard to peg any of the trio, for their specifications or stipulations. The Nunthorpe is a black-and-white issue, but it's the grey areas that make the International so compelling, and not just for the primary players, as the greyest area of all is the gallop.
Pacemakers have been maligned more than applauded this year, but they've been prevalent in most of the major races, employed by most of the major powers, making it a surprise that no such moulding measure has been taken in a malleable International. For once, it seems that Team Ballydoyle are happy to just see which way the wind blows, rather than plug in a turbine, maybe safe in the knowledge that they have all bases covered, with Churchill for speed and Cliffs of Moher for stamina.
In hindsight, Godolphin might wish they had employed an evener, to make for, as trainers always say, a 'nice, even' gallop, as Barney Roy is the one who gives the impression that the better the gallop the better he is. For his two wins this year, he had a team-mate to inadvertently wake up his wind up, via Dream Castle in the Greenham and Thunder Snow in the St James's Palace. I'm convinced that he's the best horse in the field, but I'm less convinced he can show it if things turn tactical.
From the oligopoly of the International and the duopoly of the Nunthorpe to the monopoly of the Yorkshire Oaks, which is all about Enable. Imagine if she gets beat, as some long-range snipers are already predicting, with a photo of Taghrooda clipped to the sighter. The 'funny results at York' wagons will circle the track. But any 'funny results' at the Ebor meeting are less to do with where it's staged and more when it's staged, coming, for most high-rollers, like Enable, between the twin peaks of the mid-summer championships and the autumn agendas. Managing and maintaining standards at this point in the year is a balancing act.
And there's another reason for thinking that Enable may not be at full power on Thursday, related to the International. Looking ahead to the Arc, I wouldn't be surprised if a pacemaker for Enable was parachuted in, as her eagerness in her races sometimes looks like spilling over, besides the fact that stamina is her strength. With just six runners in the Yorkshire Oaks, and none of them front runners, it may be more of a fight than we assume, for Enable and for Frankie.
Exuberance becoming over-exuberance was precisely the reason Thomas Hobson came up just short in his attempt for a momentous Royal Ascot double. The Queen Alexandra slipped out of his hands, but it took nothing away from his eye-popping performance in the Ascot Stakes, when, Pegasus-like, he went from thirteenth to clear first in the length of the straight.
That win, off a mark of 100, entitles him to play with the big boys in the Group 2 Lonsdale Cup on Friday, and there's more than a touch of the Max Dynamite about him, who took that race by storm in 2015. It's D-Day for him, the D standing for Dartmouth and Dal Harraild standing in his way, but I think Thomas Hobson is a good bet to charge them both, with his new lease of life on the Flat.