Battaash is set to return to action in Saturday’s Group 2 Armstrong Aggregates Temple Stakes at Haydock with his trainer Charlie Hills believing he has found the key to getting the explosive sprinter back to his brilliant best.
Much anticipation greeted Battaash’s return in this corresponding race last year but he scrambled home by just a head from 16-1 shot Washington DC, leaving connections underwhelmed with the performance and hoping for better.
Battaash went on to be beaten in three of his four subsequent starts, having been sent off favourite or second favourite each time, with his performances often marked by fractiousness and difficulties on the way to the start or in the stalls themselves.
However, the Battaash of 2018 does not compare to the one Hills has on his hands this year, in the trainer’s view, with the five-year-old behaving well in his training at home and pleasing with his outward appearance and his performances on the gallops.
“I was never 100 per cent happy with him last year,” Hills said on Sunday. “He didn’t look at his best in his coat at any point but he still won a couple and showed up really well in his other races, so it was far from a bad season.
“When he’s at his best he’s very good – and he showed that at times last season – but it might be that he just lacked an edge. He’s training well now and putting his efforts in the right direction, so we’re really looking forward to getting him back on Saturday.”
As a three-year-old Battaash produced a sequence of stunning performances in the familiar silks of owner Hamdan Al Maktoum, drawing comparisons with the owner’s other great five-furlong sprinter Dayjur by landing the Group 2 King George Stakes at Goodwood and the Group 1 Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp.
Yet apart from blitzing his rivals for a second time at Glorious Goodwood under Jim Crowley, Battaash failed to scale the same heights last season leaving Hills to ponder if the previous season had left its mark.
He said: “As a three-year-old he took on the older horses and had a hard season and that might have affected him a bit more than we realised. It can happen with horses that they almost miss a season and then come back the next year as good as, if not better, than before.
“We’ve been very fortunate that Dane O’Neill [second rider for Sheikh Hamdan] has been in to ride him in a lot of his work this spring and Jim came in to sit on him for his last piece and that’s put him spot on. Jim’s very happy with him, as am I.”
A back-to-form Battaash is a tantalising prospect in a sprint division already containing stars like Blue Point, who defeated Battaash in last year’s King’s Stand Stakes, Kachy and Mabs Cross, who conceded a 7lb Group 1 penalty to her rivals in the Group 3 Palace House Stakes at Newmarket last time.
The last two mentioned are also possible contenders for Saturday’s Temple Stakes, and Hills added: “I think there are some really nice horses in the sprint division this year and they’re not going to be easy to win. It’s going to be a tough ask at Haydock but I’m really very happy with him. Kachy is a proper horse and is race fit and we’re just coming out at the start of our season, which you have to remember.
“But we know Battaash is a talented horse and we hope he can have a good year, starting with Haydock at the weekend.”