Feel the speed: bullet-like Battaash set for Haydock return in Temple Stakes
Charlie Hills cannot wait to take the wraps of explosive sprint star Battaash in Saturday's Armstrong Aggregates Temple Stakes at Haydock and had an ominous warning for his rivals when he suggested one of the fastest horses in training could be even better this season.
Owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum, Battaash was a promising juvenile, but temperament threatened to win the battle over talent. However, he blossomed in 2017, winning at Listed, Group 3 and 2 level, before a stunning top-flight triumph when last seen in the Prix de l'Abbaye in October.
The son of Dark Angel is general 4-5 favourite for the Temple, which his trainer has long had marked as the ideal stepping stone to Royal Ascot, where the four-year-old is also prominent in the betting for the King's Stand Stakes at around 3-1.
Hills, quickly gaining a reputation for a fine touch with sprinters, showed off Battaash to the media at his Lambourn yard on Wednesday at an event to promote the Haydock Group 2.
He revealed that Battaash, set to be ridden by Dane O'Neill as Jim Crowley is due to be at the Curragh to partner Elarqam in the Irish 2,000 Guineas, had grown from three to four and weighed more, while suggesting the gelding was in a good frame of mind.
Asked if he could be better this year, Hills, who trained 2015 champion sprinter Muhaarar, said: "I can't see any reason why not. Michael Murphy, who rides him at home, says he is. The more racing he does, the better. At the moment there's no limit to him, so if he can improve 2lb or 3lb it would be unbelievable.
"I think there's something freakish about him. He almost looks like he's going twice as fast as any other horse in his work, which is quite scary."
Battaash cantered on Wednesday, when he looked on good terms with himself.
"You've seen him this morning and if you go in his box he's like a pony," added Hills, who is eyeing the Darley July Cup if all goes to plan.
"It's when he goes to the racecourse he knows what he's there for and that's probably the reason he's as fast as he is, because he switches on.
"He's had a few issues with the stalls, but we've had Gary and Craig Witheford down and he's been good; he hasn't put a foot wrong. He puts his gameface on at the races. Sometimes the occasion – like at York before the Nunthorpe – gets to him, but he hasn't shown any signs of that this year.
"After the Temple and King's Stand I'd love to have a go six furlongs."
Battaash is not the only sprint hotpot in Hills' yard, with impressive Doncaster winner Equilateral on course for the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, which Muhaarar won three years ago.
"When he saw Equilateral work the other day, my father [Barry] said he hadn't seen a horse go up the gallop like he did since Muhaarar," said Hills.
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