Battaash has decisive kick to come out on top in Temple penalty shootout
Weight can stop trains, so they say. But it couldn't stop five-furlong champion Battaash. Not quite, anyway.
The Temple Stakes is a traditional starting point for the speediest sprinter but it's a Group 2 event, which means those who have won at the highest level since August of the previous year have to carry an extra 5lb.
And no horse had defied a Group 1 penalty since Airwave 15 years and two changes of venue ago – it was at Sandown that Henry Candy's flying filly scored a scorching three-length victory in the 2003 Temple.
Battaash had earned his extra 5lb with an even more impressive success, bolting up by four lengths in the Prix de l'Abbaye at Chantilly last autumn with a performance that marked him out as easily the best five-furlong horse in Europe.
There was none of that brilliance, visually at least, on his return to action seven months later, but that should not put anyone off before his likely showdown with America's star filly Lady Aurelia in the King's Stand Stakes – back in Group 1 company – at Royal Ascot.
The bare bones of his performance do not read as spectacularly as his Paris romp, recovering from a slow start to lead on the stands' side over a furlong out, then nailing Kachy, who showed brilliant speed on the far rail, to lead in the final 25 yards. The fast-finishing Washington DC was a head behind in second, with Kachy another short head away.
Battaash's trainer Charlie Hills was delighted with the comeback. "It's very hard with a penalty against good horses. In the sprint division 5lb is quite a lot," he said.
"It was a very tactical race – I've watched plenty of Temple Stakes and they don't normally do that. He didn't really jump properly and I think that helped him. He got a lovely lead from Take Cover.
"It was hard because they split across the track and he had to do it the hard way. He was probably a little bit tired in the last few strides, but I'm just delighted we've got this day over with and we can now look forward to Ascot."
Hills added: "He's nowhere near in his coat yet but that race should really help that move. This is good timing to Royal Ascot and that was his main plan. He's an exciting horse for the year."
With Jim Crowley going to the Curragh to partner Elarqam in the Irish 2,000 Guineas, Dane O'Neill was back on board Battaash for the first time since partnering him to victories on his first two starts last season.
"It's never easy giving weight away and the race developed a little bit away from us," O'Neill said. "He's going to improve a lot for that. He's still quick."
Washington DC is likely to take on the winner again in the King's Stand.
"That was very pleasing," said Kevin Buckley, Coolmore's British representative.
"Wayne Lordan was very happy with him, he got the cover he needs. He was beaten by a very good horse but ran very well and it was a big improvement on his sixth last year. I'm sure we'll have to consider Ascot."
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