08/18/2010 1:07PM

Starspangledbanner may be vulnerable in Nunthorpe

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Starspangledbanner will cut back to five furlongs for Friday's Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes at York.

Rarely has a British sprint race come up as strong as the Group 1, $374,000 Nunthorpe Stakes at York on Friday. In Starspangledbanner and Equiano, the five-furlong dash will feature the two best sprinters in Europe, and in Borderlescott they will be facing the two-time defending Nunthorpe titleholder.

Starspangledbanner has thrived under Aidan O’Brien since being bought by Coolmore from Australia this spring. The 4-year-old son of Choisir moved to the head of the European sprinting class with his victory in the six-furlong, Group 1 Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot, then confirmed that form with a gritty neck score over Equiano under the same conditions in the July Cup at Newmarket. Johnny Murtagh will keep Starspangledbanner close to the pace as he cuts back to five furlongs, a distance at which he won twice in Australia in maiden and handicap company.

But Starspangledbanner, a Group 1 winner going a mile Down Under, is at his best going at least six furlongs, and that makes him vulnerable to the renewed challenge of Equiano, whose best distance is five furlongs. At Royal Ascot, he won the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes at that distance for the second time in three years. The Barry Hills-trained 5-year-old will be ridden by Michael Hills.

Borderlescott emerged lame from his victory in the five-furlong, Group 2 King George Stakes at Goodwood on July 29 and was expected to miss his Nunthorpe defense. He recovered more quickly than trainer Robin Bastiman had expected, however, and will line up with Neil Callan aboard, although there may be doubts about his overall fitness. The winner of the Nunthorpe as a 2-year-old in 2007, Kingsgate Native beat Equiano by a half-length three back when taking Haydock’s five-furlong, Group 2 Temple Stakes and was just 1 3/4 lengths fourth in the July Cup.

The mare Fleeting Spirit, winner of the July Cup last year, is always competitive in events like this.

A pair of 2-year-olds will be among the 13 horses lining up for the Nunthorpe. The better of them is the maiden Stone of Folca, a John Best-trained colt who was a neck second to Zebedee in the five-furlong, Group 3 Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood last month.

Ladbrokes cannot separate Starspangledbanner and Equiano in the betting, offering them both at 5-2, with Kingsgate Native at 6-1, Fleeting Spirit 7-1, Borderlescott 10-1, and Stone of Folca, who receives 24 pounds on the scale from older horses, 12-1.

◗ Approve returned to form for trainer William Haggas in the Group 2, $218,000 Gimcrack Stakes for 2-year-olds on Wednesday. The son of 2003 Nunthorpe winner Oasis Dream defeated Crown Prosecutor as the 8-1 fifth choice with Eddie Ahern aboard, getting the six furlongs in 1:11.67 on good ground. The winner of the five-furlong, Group 2 Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot, Approve had only been third last time in the Group 2 Prix Robert Papin.