Hills puts trying time behind him as Battaash returns to brilliant best
Nunthorpe next for the fastest horse in the world
It has been a summer of sun but not too much fun for Charlie Hills, who was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief after seeing the breathtaking Battaash do what he does best and scorch across the turf with that zip and dash that many believe makes him the world's fastest racehorse.
In repeating last year's success in the Qatar-sponsored Group 2 King George, Battaash showed the depth of talent that led to him being crowned the best five-furlong horse on the planet last year.
That title again appears his for the taking after the gelding dismissed old rival Take Cover by an impressive four lengths under Jim Crowley.
It resulted in his odds for the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes at York on August 24 shrinking, and on Friday night only Betfair Sportsbook were odds against, at 11-10. Coral went 4-7 (from 13-8).
Hills, who confirmed the York Group 1 as the next target, possibly followed by next month's Derrinstown Stud Flying Five Stakes at the Curragh and then a defence of the four-year-old's Qatar Prix de l'Abbaye crown, has endured a trying middle part of the season and savoured a success he reckoned to be Battaash's best and one that clearly meant a lot to him.
"He was going so well and Jim just had to let him be happy going forward," Hills said as the rays shone down on a Glorious Goodwood winner's enclosure.
"Nothing was fast enough to give him a lead and I think today he was back to his best – it was probably a career-best. He had a penalty and it was a good time.
"I always thought the faster the ground the better he'd be – he's got the most amazing action and is so light on his feet."
Second when favourite in the King's Stand at Royal Ascot in June, Battaash, owned by loyal yard supporter Hamdan Al Maktoum, has come with a warning at times as he can get worked up before the start and in the stalls, but even that department is beginning to run a little smoother.
"It's probably the best he's behaved in his whole career in the preliminaries and I think that's because he's having more racing and growing up," added the Lambourn trainer, paying tribute to horse behaviourist Gary Witheford and his son Craig.
"That nervous energy seems to be out of him. He's been training a lot better at home and we've got a lot to look forward to.
"I was never really happy with him in his coat earlier in the season – he had a winter coat at Ascot – but in the last few weeks his summer coat has come through, and he probably wasn't at his best at Ascot. He's better this year than he was last year, so hopefully he'll be better again next year."
Hills would not be drawn on comparisons with Muhaarar, his magnificent sprinter of 2015, and instead described the pair as champions.
Of his quiet period, which he is now emerging from, he said: "It's not been an easy summer, but there's plenty of the season to go and the horses are running much better and that's certainly helped today. The horses were just not finishing their races, but they are getting there now."
If they get there in the speed Battaash showed, no-one will have to wait long.
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