Friday, 29 March 2019

Big Race History: Nunthorpe Stakes 2018: Alpha Delphini

Alpha Delphini edges Mabs Cross in epic finish to Nunthorpe at York
The Nunthorpe Stakes was inaugurated in 1922 and over the years developed a reputation as a punter-friendly race, which was rarely, if ever, won by an outsider. Indeed, Bahamian Pirate, who won the Nunthorpe Stakes at 16/1 in 2004, was just the fourth winner since World War II to be returned at odds longer than 14/1. However, in a decade-and-a-half since, the Nunthorpe Stakes has been won by Sole Power at 100/1 in 2010, Margot Did at 20/1 in 2011, Jwala at 40/1 in 2013 and, most recently, Alpha Delphini at 40/1 in 2018, so the tide has turned, inexorably, in favour of the layers. 

That said, Alpha Delphini was tipped, in some quarters, as an outsider likely to outperform his huge starting price, so it can be argued that, perhaps, he should not have been a 40/1 chance in the first place. Having finished eighth of eleven behind Marsha, on good going, in the Nunthorpe Stakes in 2017, Alpha Delphini lined up for the 2018 renewal arguably in the form of his life. On his three previous starts he had been beaten three-quarters of a length, a short head and a head when placed in the Palace House Stakes at Newmarket, the Achilles Stakes at Haydock and the City Walls Stakes at York. As a horse that liked to race on, or close to, the early pace, the good to firm going on the Knavesmire was also in his favour. 

Of course, his inflated starting price was also due, in no small part to the presence of Battaash, the highest-rated horse in training, according to Timeform, and hot favourite for the Nunthorpe Stakes at 4/5. Interestingly, in 2017, as a three-year-old, Battaash had been beaten in the Nunthorpe Stakes between winning the King George Stakes at Goodwood and the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp but, having won the former contest again, impressively, in 2018, was all the rage at York once more. 

Officially, Alpha Delphini was rated 19lb inferior to Battaash which, according to the pounds-per-length conversion used by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), meant that he had a little over 6 lengths to find with the market leader. However, as was customary, Alpha Delphini raced close up in the centre of the 15-strong field and was driven into the lead by jockey Graham Lee in the last hundred yards or so. Despite edging left close home, he held on gamely to beat the rallying Mabs Cross by the narrowest margin possible, a nose. Battaash, who had raced prominently on the stands’ side, led the field with a furlong-and-a-half to run, but could only keep on at one pace once headed and eventually finished fourth, beaten 2½ lengths.