Connections of Battaash are unsure what to expect when the star sprinter defends his crown in the Prix de l’Abbaye at ParisLongchamp.
The Charlie Hills-trained four-year-old was a brilliant winner of the five-furlong Group One at Chantilly last season and produced a similarly jaw-dropping display of raw speed when winning the King George Stakes at Goodwood in August for the second year in succession.
Watch how Battaash bolted up in last year's Prix de l'Abbaye
However, just like last season, he returns to Paris after finishing a lacklustre fourth in the Nunthorpe at York.
Angus Gold, racing manager for owner Hamdan Al Maktoum, said: “I believe they’re very happy with him going into the race. Obviously he’s on a bit of a recovery mission after York, but it was the same last year and it didn’t stop him then.
“If he’s at his best, he’s the one they’ve all got to beat, but you never quite know what to expect, which is part of the attraction with him.”
Just three weeks separated Battassh’s Goodwood romp and his below-par effort at York, whereas he has had six weeks to prepare for his latest assignment and Gold thinks the extra time could prove key.
He added: “I do think he goes well fresh. Even though it looked like he won easily at Goodwood, he does take a lot out of himself and maybe he was a bit flat in the Nunthorpe because of that.”
Battaash is one of two runners for Sheikh Hamdan, with the Freddy Head-trained Tantheem having been supplemented following successive wins.
“I’ve been surprised by how much speed she’s shown as she’s only a small filly,” said Gold. We gave her a break during the summer and she’s come back really well since.
“It might seem a bit strange to supplement her to take on our best horse, but Sheikh Hamdan was happy to do so in case Battaash doesn’t fire.”
Havana Grey claimed Group One glory in the Flying Five at the Curragh three weeks ago and trainer Karl Burke believes his charge is in even better shape now.
“He is in fantastic form. He’s really stepped up since winning the Flying Five – it’s almost like he knows he’s won a big race,” said the Spigot Lodge handler.
“I couldn’t be happier with him going into the weekend. It’s another tough race and I respect Battaash and a number of other horses, but I’m very hopeful.
“Stall one is a great draw. He’s on the rail, so we’re very happy with that.”
Bryan Smart’s Alpha Delphini and the Michael Dods-trained Mabs Cross renew rivalry following their thrilling tussle in the Nunthorpe at York.
The pair passed the post almost as one on the Knavesmire before the judge eventually called 40-1 shot Alpha Delphini the winner by a nose.
Watch expert analysis of the Nunthorpe at York
Smart told At The Races: “He was great at York, battled all the way to the line and stuck his nose out when he needed to. To be perfectly honest, to go and win that was an absolute dream.
“Graham (Lee) came and rode him last week and was very happy.
“He’s got to travel, which he’s never done before, and he does get a little bit tense, so that’s something we’ve got to overcome.”
Dods admits the fact Mabs Cross is drawn wide in stall 13 is not ideal, but he is still hopeful of a big run.
With her regular partner Paul Mulrennan still sidelined and Tom Eaves, who has ridden her the last twice, also out injured, veteran French jockey Gerald Mosse will be on board for the first time.
“We’d would have preferred to have been drawn a bit lower, but we are where we are and we’ll try to make the best of it,” said Dods.
“She seems in great form. It’s a tough race, but I’m very happy with her and hopefully she’ll run well.
“With Tom injured now we’ve another new jockey, but Gerald is world-class and he knows the track.”
If we get our ground in France you'll see a whole different horse again. Darren Bunyan, trainer
Aidan O’Brien saddles Lost Treasure, Different League, Sioux Nation and Declarationofpeace, while Darren Bunyan’s stable star Hit The Bid also travels from Ireland.
Bunyan said: “The going was bad when we took him to Newbury a couple of weeks ago, so we didn’t run him.
“He never handled the ground the time before in the Flying Five at the Curragh, but was only beaten a length and a neck (finished fourth). He ran a hell of race for a horse that didn’t handle the ground that day.
“If we get our ground in France, you’ll see a whole different horse again. I know it’s a very good race and I know you need luck on your side.”
The home team includes Stephane Wattel’s City Light and Finsbury Square, who finished fourth two years ago.