Can Battaash make it six out of six first time out? Graeme Rodway gives his view
3.40 Royal Ascot
King's Stand Stakes (Group 1) | 5f | 3yo+ | ITV/Sky
This race revolves around Battaash. There haven't been many speedballs quite as fast as him in recent seasons, but until last year Ascot's straight track had proved his nemesis.
The seven-year-old finally laid that ghost to rest 12 months ago when blowing his rivals away on his first run after 254 days off the track, and comes into this race off a similarly long break. This time he has a 298-day absence to overcome, and there has been the odd rumour that his preparation hasn't been as smooth this time around.
However, as punters we can go only on the facts and they are as follows: his first-time-out form figures read 11111, and four of those victories came after absences of at least 200 days.
He evidently goes well fresh and fitness shouldn’t be an issue, so what about the track?
Yes, he won here last year, but Ascot features quite a long way down if you rank his runs by Racing Post Ratings. His RPRs here read 123, 122 and 117, which are no better than equal sixth, eighth and 13th best on his ledger. So can Battaash strike again at a track which doesn't bring out the best in him?
Battaash's four highest RPRs in Britain have been achieved at York, Goodwood (twice), and Haydock, and the Racing Post standard times for those tracks are a lot quicker than at Ascot. Goodwood's 5f standard is 57.2 seconds, while York comes in at 57.5s and Haydock 58.1s.
Battaash is all about speed, so he is well suited by tracks which place the emphasis on that. However, Ascot's standard time for 5f of 59.4s is around two seconds slower than at Goodwood and York, and more than a second slower than Haydock. When you consider that a second is worth up to six lengths in a sprint, it is clear Ascot tests stamina rather than speed.
He is an outstanding sprinter and there is no doubt on that score, but both his form and the standard times suggest he is more vulnerable at Ascot than he is at most other tracks.
So who does excel at tracks like Ascot where the emphasis is on stamina rather than speed?
Liberty Beach has recorded three of her five highest RPRs in Britain at Ascot and Sandown, and the standard time for Sandown is remarkably similar to Ascot at 59.7s for 5f sprints.
That suggests Liberty Beach will be even better suited by this track than she was by Haydock, where she won the Temple Stakes last time, so an improved display is expected.
Winter Power looked like Battaash's heir apparent when blasting her rivals away from the front in the Listed Westow Stakes at York last month, and the form was franked when three-length runner-up Atalis Bay ran out an easy winner of the Scurry at Sandown on Saturday.
However, Winter Power's two highest RPRs have come at speed tracks – York and Newmarket (5f standard time 58.3 seconds) – so let's see if she can reproduce that here.
Race analysis by Graeme Rodway
Setback well behind blistering Battaash
Very few trainers come across as being more relaxed than Charlie Hills, and even the prospect of saddling stable star Battaash on one of the biggest stages in world racing failed to make him hot under the collar on the eve of the King's Stand Stakes.
Hills was also happy to reveal more details of the gelding's setback over the winter, the repercussions of which meant he did not have time for a prep race, although that is of no concern to his trainer.
He said: "He went back to Shadwell after his Nunthorpe win and around December time they weren't quite happy with him so they gave him a full MOT and found a tiny fracture in his sesamoid.
"It was pretty minute, but when you're dealing with a horse like him you want to make sure you do the right thing all the time."
Rest and recuperation has seen Battaash return to full fitness and Hills is delighted with his home form.
The trainer added: "I couldn't be more pleased with him and everyone who has been dealing with him is very happy. He's been training as good as ever.
"He's won first-time out every time in his career, so that shouldn't be a problem, and I think we've got a good draw. He's the one to beat."
What they say
Brendan Walsh, trainer of Extravagant Kid
He proved in Meydan he's good enough to take on these horses. Battaash will be tough to beat but everything has got to go to plan, so you can't really be afraid of any other horse. The stiff five furlongs should be perfect.
Adrian McGuinness, trainer of Harry's Bar
I do think he's an awful lot better than his current mark of 106. If he tags on to them early, he'll be finishing.
Wesley Ward, trainer of Maven
He's going to give it his all and we'll have to see if his all is good enough. I had Bound For Nowhere, who was very competitive in a Diamond Jubilee a few years back, and this guy ran the same numbers as him at Keeneland. He's one of the top American sprinters, that's for sure.
Roger Teal, trainer of Oxted
He's been quite aggressive this year in his races and it's been on our minds for a while to run over five furlongs. We're a Group 1 winner and if he can shine on the track like he is at home, we'll get among them.
Alastair Donald, racing manager to King Power Racing, owners of Stone Of Destiny and Winter Power
Winter Power has blistering pace, seems to handle all ground and looks to have a good draw up the middle. We're about to find out if she's a superstar or just very good. Let's hope she can give Battaash something to think about. A flat-out five at Ascot is ideal for Stone Of Destiny and I have a sneaking suspicion he could nick a place.
Sean Quinn, assistant trainer to John Quinn, trainer of Keep Busy and Liberty Beach
Liberty Beach ran a huge race last year and hopefully she can come forward from the Temple. They've met a few times and there's never been much between them – Liberty Beach has loads of raw speed, while Keep Busy is more of a grinder.
Michael Dods, trainer of Que Amoro
The ground will suit. It would have been nice to have had a prep run but we couldn't because of the soft ground. She has had a racecourse gallop and is in good form.
Reporting by Lewis Porteous
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