Third time lucky: brilliant Battaash lands elusive King's Stand win in style
Some things are worth waiting for – not that there is much waiting where the blink-and-you'll-miss-him sprinter Battaash is concerned.
The brilliantly quick five-furlong specialist has put in a series of outstanding performances in recent years, notably when bolting up by four lengths in the Prix de l'Abbaye at Chantilly in 2017 and when taking the Nunthorpe at York in record time last summer.
But he had let down his many fans among racegoers at Royal Ascot, in the years when they were allowed, with defeats on all three previous visits to the meeting.
He reared in the stalls and never figured in the Windsor Castle Stakes as a two-year-old, after which the decision was taken to geld the former tearaway, and in the last two seasons he had found Blue Point too good in the Group 1 King's Stand Stakes.
With that rival now retired, the best sprinter that Hamdan Al Maktoum has owned since Dayjur was sent off 5-6 favourite to take full advantage and he did so in a style that would have made on-course bookmakers thankful they were not allowed to be at the track and taking bets.
Always full of running under Jim Crowley, whose hardest job was to get him settled enough to see out the trip on the rain-softened ground, he came home a smooth two-and-a-quarter-length winner from stablemate Equilateral, who pipped Liberty Beach for second place.
"There was nothing quick enough to lead him and I was trying to save enough up our sleeve for the finish, which worked out.
"I was a little bit worried the stiff uphill finish might find him out but he's a real superstar. He's done the three now, with the Abbaye and Nunthorpe, and hopefully we're not finished yet. He's one of the best sprinters in recent years, he's got so much natural talent. He can throw the odd one in now and again but when he's good he's very very good."
"I'm relieved but so proud he's done that today after being second in it twice," the trainer said. "As soon as the gates opened today he was on his A-game, you could see, and he was going to be hard to beat.
"You'd always prefer to have a fast lead horse, like El Astronaute or Ornate who we've been able to get leads off in the past, but without them there today we had to do it ourselves."
Hills admitted that landing this elusive success meant a lot. "He's six years old and he's been with the family for a long time. You do get very close to them and it does make you slightly well up when he does a performance like that," he said.
"It's wonderful to have a horse like him around, the horse of a lifetime really. And first and second in a race like this is fantastic. But it's very sad Sheikh Hamdan wasn't able to come and watch him because I know he's enormously proud of this horse."
Racing behind closed doors was reckoned to be a potential advantage to Battaash, given his past history of getting worked up before races.
But Hills said: "I think we're all reading too much into that now. It was a problem but now he's a man of a horse and he can deal with most things.
"This race will do him the world of good and I'm really looking forward to Goodwood and trying to win the King George Stakes for the fourth time."
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