Crowley salutes ‘horse of a lifetime’ Battaash

Jim Crowley will never forget Battaash’s Nunthorpe victory at York in 2019 in a long list of memories he can treasure of the newly-retired sprinter.

The fact Battaash beat the legendary Dayjur’s course record, also owned owned by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, and that his late boss was present on the Knavesmire that afternoon made it extra special.

Crowley only missed one of Battaash’s races since their association began in August 2017.

“He’s been an unbelievable horse for everyone involved and Charlie Hills has done a fantastic job with him,” he said.

Jim Crowley had some of his best days in the saddle on Battaash
Jim Crowley had some of his best days in the saddle on Battaash (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Bob Grace deserves a special mention for looking after him until his retirement and his new lad Bluey (Cannon), too.

“He’s been the horse of a lifetime and I’ll miss him dearly. To get a buzz like you got off him is very difficult to find.

“He was so fast – too fast for his own good sometimes, but it was always exciting riding him.”

But there was one day in particular that Crowley highlighted as the crowning moment of his career.

“The day he won the Nunthorpe I will never forget as long as I live, it was a special day,” he said.

“He silenced a few of his critics that day and broke Dayjur’s record, and Sheikh Hamdan was on track that day at York. There are lots of reasons that made it a special day.

“He was very good when he won the Prix de l’Abbaye and he loved Goodwood as well. It was also lovely to win the King’s Stand with him because Ascot wasn’t a track that played to his strengths with its stiff finish, as he was a speed horse.

“The Nunthorpe day was something else, though.”

Sheikh Hamdan greets Battaash after he broke the track record at York
Sheikh Hamdan greets Battaash after he broke the track record at York (Simon Cooper/PA)

The first day Crowley rode him on track was Battaash’s first win in the King George at Goodwood in 2017 – and he felt even then he was on something special.

“For sure that first day at Goodwood I got an idea he could be something special, but sometimes he was his own worst enemy,” said Crowley.

“He lost the plot at York the first year, but when he was good he was very good. He won the Temple one day and went through the field like a hot knife through butter.

“He was a special horse, I’ve got lots of fond memories of him. He was a very kind horse as well, he was part of the family for Charlie, his kids loved him. I’ll miss riding him.

“Along with Enable and Stradivarius he has lit up the last few Flat seasons. It’s very hard for a sprinter to be so dominant, because in a lot of the races you could run them five times and get five different results.

“He was a testament to Charlie and his team, Bob and everyone did such a great job. It’s been a lovely ride and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I feel very lucky to have come across a horse like that and he’ll have a happy retirement I’m sure.”

Battaash – 5 of his best

As the curtain comes down on the career of the brilliant sprinter Battaash – having won 13 of his 25 races and £1,774,180 in prize-money – we take a look at five of his best performances:

Prix de l’Abbaye 2017, Chantilly

After meeting with his first defeat of the season in the Nunthorpe at York, when connections felt he lost his race before it had even begun, Battaash returned to winning ways in devastating style. With the race taking place in Chantilly as Longchamp was undergoing redevelopment, Jim Crowley bounced him out and he barely saw another rival, coming home four lengths clear of the Nunthorpe winner Marsha to win his first Group One.

King George Stakes 2018, Goodwood

Battaash first, the rest nowhere
Battaash first, the rest nowhere (Adam Davy/PA)

Battaash had already won the Group Two event as a three-year-old and it was never really a debate that of all the tracks he ran at the Sussex Downs suited him best. The downhill section enabled him to hit top gear early in the race under little pressure, and it was a pace very few could live with. Despite conceding a Group One penalty he blitzed a good field by upwards of four lengths.

Nunthorpe Stakes 2019, York

Battaash was in a different league to his rivals on the Knavesmire
Battaash was in a different league to his rivals on the Knavesmire (Simon Cooper/PA)

Battaash had made the journey to York for the previous two seasons only to trail home in fourth on both occasions, so there were many suggesting the Knavesmire was not the place for Battaash. However, he was absolutely brilliant in laying the York ghost to rest, winning by almost four lengths. Conceding 15lb to the runner-up Soldier’s Call, Battaash cruised into the lead and looked in a different league to his rivals.

King’s Stand Stakes 2020, Ascot

Battaash strides out to claim his first Royal Ascot win
Battaash strides out to claim his first Royal Ascot win (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Just like he had done at York the previous season, Battaash conquered another of his unchartered waters at Royal Ascot. Twice second to Blue Point, with that one retired the coast was clear. He might have been helped by the fact there was no crowd there due to the pandemic, meaning he was calmer than normal pre-race – but there was to be no disputing his authority over the others, with stablemate Equilateral chasing him home.

Scurry Stakes 2017, Sandown

The race where it all started in earnest. After winning on his debut at two he disappointed at Ascot and was subsequently gelded due to his tendency to want to get on with things, but he was beaten three more times in his first season. He reappeared at Sandown unheralded, yet despite running keen early after missing the break, he showed a glimpse of the speed which was to define him for the rest of his career.

Curtain comes down on career of superstar Battaash

Brilliant sprinter Battaash has been retired following his defeat in the King George Qatar Stakes at Goodwood on Friday.

The Charlie Hills-trained seven-year-old was attempting to win the Group Two feature for the fifth successive year, but after travelling well through the early stages he had to settle for seventh place behind the French filly Suesa.

Connections immediately raised the possibility of retirement for the four-time Group One winner, and that has now been confirmed.

The late Sheikh Hamdan with Battaash after victory in the Nunthorpe at York
The late Sheikh Hamdan with Battaash after victory in the Nunthorpe at York (Simon Cooper/PA)

In a statement to the PA news agency on Saturday, racing manager Angus Gold said on behalf of Shadwell Estate Company Ltd: “Following telephone conversations with HH Sheikha Hissa Bint Hamdan Al Maktoum last night and this morning it has been confirmed that Battaash will retire from racing with immediate effect.

“Sheikha Hissa confirmed to me how much Battaash had meant to Sheikh Hamdan and indeed to all her family and she does not want to abuse him in any way – while the ground may have been a contributory factor to his defeat yesterday it appeared that some of his old spark was missing, so ultimately the decision to retire him was an easy one.”

Battaash won the Nunthorpe at York in 2019 and 2020, the Prix de l’Abbaye in 2017 and last year’s King’s Stand at Royal Ascot in a career which began with victory in a five-furlong novice event at Bath in May 2016.

His return to action this season was delayed by an injury setback, finishing fourth in the King’s Stand.

Gold went on: “Battaash has been a flag-bearer for Shadwell for the last six years and has run in 19 consecutive Group races, winning 11 of them, including four Group Ones and was still at his prime as a six-year-old last year winning all three of his starts.

Battaash winning the King's Stand at Royal Ascot
Battaash winning the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot (Edward Whitaker/PA)

“Despite having had soundness issues most of his life, from poor X-rays of his knees as a three-year-old right through to having to repair a tiny fracture in his right-fore fetlock joint in December last year, along with two different surgeries for wind abnormalities, he has raced at the top level for the last five seasons.

“As a result of overcoming all these adversities he has obviously become a huge favourite for everyone connected with Shadwell and on behalf of Sheikha Hissa and her family I would like to pay tribute to all those who have contributed to his success – obviously to Charles Hills and all his team who looked after the horse so brilliantly, particularly Bob Grace and Bluey Cannon who took over the mantle of looking after the horse this year when Bob retired.

“To all those who rode the horse over the years, and in particular Dane O’Neill who has ridden him in so much of his work for the last three or four years. To all the vets who have spent so much of their time making sure that the horse is in top shape and finally to Dennis O’Brien and all his team at Shadwell Stud where the horse has spent his winters for the last four years – without all their dedication and hard work he would never have achieved the heights he has and we are very grateful to everybody who has contributed to his success.

Battaash was virtually unstoppable at Goodwood
Battaash was virtually unstoppable at Goodwood (Edward Whitaker/PA)

“It has been an enormous thrill to have a horse as explosive as Battaash and together with other recent stars of the turf like Stradivarius and Enable, he has lit up the last few years and given us some wonderful days on the track, and we all feel very honoured to have been associated with him.

“Battaash will live out his days in well earned retirement at Shadwell Stud.”

Paying his tribute, Hills told Racing TV: “We’re greatly proud to have been associated with a horse like him.

“We’ve had some wonderful times together, it’s been a really great journey. And what’s great is he’s there today fit and sound and (after) all those great races he’s won it’s just nice to have a horse there that can go and enjoy the rest of his life.

“He’s such a softy at home, anyone can go an cuddle him. He’s so nice to be around, it’s been an absolute privilege to train him.

“It’s sad, but good things have to come to an end.”

Speed queen Suesa takes her place among the sprinting elite

The five-furlong sprint division is the 100 metres of the racing world, speed is the one and only currency accepted in races like the King George Qatar Stakes.

That need for speed produces a certain type of horse – a strapping, powerful sort capable of blistering pace for a brief minute or so.

Suesa does not possess that muscular build one might associate with a sprinter. She is small, pony-like and light-framed with an unusual speckled white marking on her neck.

In France she was infallible, triumphing in all four of her runs on Chantilly turf in a winning streak that began with maiden and then expanded to include a Listed contest and two Group Three races.

A trip overseas to take on the Group One Commonwealth Cup followed, but the torrential rain at Ascot scuppered that plan as the going was left heavy, too heavy even for a filly with form on sodden French ground.

William Buick took the ride that day and wisely took great care of his mount, easing her home in the driving rain at the Royal meeting when it became clear that a placing was not within reach.

Suesa had been saved for another day, and although Goodwood could offer weather only marginally better than inclement Ascot, the sharp wind had significantly dried the track and this time there was no blunting her turn of foot.

Pitched against Dragon Symbol, who had the beating of her in the Coronation Cup, and the beloved Battaash, Suesa was once again set quite the task having travelled from Francois Rohaut’s Sauvagnon stable.

Tucked away at the rear of the field, Buick kept his mount poised for a late attack and as the furlong pole approached and her rivals fell behind, the three-year-old cruised through to take up the lead.

Battaash, Glass Slippers and Dragon Symbol all tried tried to stay with her, but she was travelling in another gear by the time the winning post loomed and eventually crossed the line three lengths ahead of the latter.

This was the real Suesa, seen to best effect on soft but not bottomless ground, undeterred by the colts in the line-up and the experience of her rivals.

“She’s quite strong to sit on, she’s all there,” Buick said when the slight build of the 7-1 winner was mentioned.

“She moves like a sprinter and you can see she’s a really cool customer.

“She was hard on the bridle the whole way and then she has that kick at the finish, today was brilliant conditions for her and Mr Rohaut was adamant that she was in good shape. It was an amazing performance.

“She’s an absolute sweetheart, I rode her in the Commonwealth at Ascot but it was on the Friday so the ground was very bad.

“I learnt a lot from her that day, she’s full of speed and she came back to five (furlongs) today and she travelled through the race so smoothly.

“It’s great to get the ride, she’s very good filly.”

Suesa was far too good for a host of star names
Suesa was far too good for a host of star names (John Walton/PA)

It was not the result the Goodwood crowd would have hoped for, of course, with Battaash only seventh as he made his bid for an astonishing fifth victory in the race.

He normally goes from the Sussex Downs on to the Nunthorpe at York – but that journey is now in doubt, as it looks like he will head for the most well-deserved of retirements.

Instead it is Suesa who could be the star on the Knavesmire – or even in the Abbaye on Arc day, another familiar haunt of Battaash.

James Wigan, racing manager to American owner George Strawbridge, said: “As for a run at York, it depends what she is like when she gets back. She’ll have had quite a lot of travelling, coming here and then going back, then coming again having already done Ascot. The Abbaye will be the obvious target.

“There is a very good chance she will stay in training next year as the owner is very much a sportsman.”

Battaash future in the balance after Goodwood eclipse

Connections of Battaash are set for discussions on the future of the brilliant sprinter, with retirement appearing a distinct possibility.

The seven-year-old could finish only seventh in his bid for a fifth successive King George Qatar Stakes at Goodwood on Friday, and Angus Gold, racing manager for Shadwell Estate, will now consult with Sheikha Hissa on Battaash’s future.

The Charlie Hills-trained gelding made a belated return to action this term when fourth at Royal Ascot, after suffering an injury during the winter, and connections could now call time on his career.

Gold said: “Jim (Crowley, jockey) said he really didn’t like the ground but that was not the reason he was beaten.

Battaash at Goodwood on Friday
Battaash at Goodwood on Friday (PA)

“The horse has done remarkably well to get back to the races and it took him a long time to come right after the fracture.

“Jim said ‘I had a ride for a few yards’ and there comes a time for all of us.

“I shall speak to the owner tonight, as the last thing we want to do is abuse him.

“After all the problems we’ve had, why would we go on now?

“She (Sheikha Hissa) spoke to me at Ascot and said she didn’t want to abuse this horse, so I suspect there will be an announcement forthcoming.”

A real flag-bearer for Hills, Battaash has also won the Nunthorpe, Prix de l’Abbaye and King’s Stand in a career which began with victory in a five-furlong novice event at Bath in May 2016.

His Lambourn trainer said: “He had a good trip, really. There was a lot of pace on this side of the track, but he came into the race travelling nice and strong. He probably didn’t really handle the ground as well as he could have done.

Charlie Hills celebrates after last year's King's Stand at Royal Ascot
Charlie Hills celebrates after last year’s King’s Stand at Royal Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“We were happy (coming into the race). He was doing everything we have done in the past few years, so there was no difference, really. I was just a little bit concerned about the going here today.

“We will see how he comes out of the race, speak to the management and Sheikha Hissa, and decide where to go forward.”

Crowley said: “The ground was probably slow enough for him. He owes us nothing and is not getting any younger.

“He travelled well early and showed plenty of enthusiasm. Even cantering down, I thought the going was slow enough.

“We’ll have a regroup and see what everybody wants to do. They don’t get quicker as they get older.”

Suesa swamps Battaash and company

Goodwood favourite Battaash was unable to record a fifth successive victory in the King George Qatar Stakes as Suesa claimed top honours for France.

The Charlie Hills-trained Battaash had made the Group Two contest his own in the recent seasons and was the 2-1 favourite to add to his tally off the back of finishing fourth on his belated reappearance when defending his crown in the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot.

The seven-year-old travelled strongly for much of the five-furlong journey under regular partner Jim Crowley, but his finishing effort was ultimately short lived and he weakened late on to finish a well-beaten seventh.

Having won her first four races in her homeland, Francois Rohaut’s Suesa was the market leader for the Commonwealth Cup at the Royal meeting last month, but could finish only eighth.

But the 7-1 shot bounced right back to form on the Sussex Downs, rocketing home from the rear in the hands of William Buick to score by three lengths.

Dragon Symbol was best of the rest, again having to make do with minor honours after being demoted to the runner-up spot in the Commonwealth Cup and finishing second in the July Cup at Newmarket.

James Wigan, racing manager for Suesa’s owner, George Strawbridge, said: “We thought she was very good before Ascot, and then the rain came and the ground was bottomless.

Suesa earns a well-deserved pat from William Buick
Suesa earns a well-deserved pat from William Buick (John Walton/PA)

“She just couldn’t act on it, luckily we took her home and she was OK.

“Her form in France before was very impressive, but we didn’t know what she’d be like over here.

“There aren’t really many deep races, sprint Group races, in France in the summer, so this was the obvious place to come.”

Looking to future plans, Wigan said: “As for a run at York (in the Nunthorpe), it depends what she is like when she gets back. She’ll have had quite a lot of travelling, coming here and then going back, then coming again having already done Ascot. The Abbaye will be the obvious target.

“There is a very good chance she will stay in training next year as the owner is very much a sportsman.”

Buick was thoroughly impressed with Suesa.

He said: “She’s an absolute sweetheart. I rode her in the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, but the ground was very bad and I learned a lot from her that day.

“She’s full of speed and was coming back to five (furlongs) today and she travelled through the race so smoothly, she was hard on the bridle the whole way and she has that good kick at the finish.

“Today was perfect conditions for her, Mr Rohaut was adamant she was in good shape and I spoke to Olivier Peslier about her as well who told me a thing or two about her.

“It was great to get the ride and she’s a very good filly.”

Oisin Murphy was aboard the Archie Watson-trained runner-up: “Dragon Symbol is better than that. It’s a shame the good ones weren’t drawn beside him, we followed the wrong ones.”

Kevin Ryan said of third home Glass Slippers, who making her seasonal reappearance after winning at the Breeders’ Cup: “I am absolutely delighted.

“She came there travelling very strongly. We would like to have got a racecourse gallop into her, but the ground has been so firm everywhere. We didn’t want to risk doing that. We knew coming here she was going to need the run. We can look forward to the rest of the year now.

“We will have a chat over the weekend, but we will generally take the same sort of route, the race in Ireland (Flying Five Stakes, Group One) I would imagine will be on the agenda. It will be a nice chat to have on Sunday morning.”

Battaash bids to thrill Goodwood again

Battaash bids to thrill the Goodwood crowds again with an unprecedented fifth triumph in the King George Qatar Stakes.

The seven-year-old secured his place in Goodwood history when winning his fourth edition of the Group Two sprint last summer, although only a handful of people witnessed his triumph because coronavirus restrictions meant there were no racegoers on course.

Spectators are back in force on the Sussex Downs this week, though, and Battaash will be trying to regain the winning thread on Friday – after having to settle for fourth in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot on his return.

Despite that two-and-a-half-length defeat, Angus Gold, racing manager for owners Shadwell Estate, was more than satisfied with Battaash’s effort after a setback during the winter had delayed his return to trainer Charlie Hills’ care.

Jim Crowley celebrates on Battaash following his third King George Stakes win
Jim Crowley celebrates on Battaash following his third King George Stakes win (Adam Davy/PA)

Gold said: “It was well documented that he hadn’t been back in training long before Ascot, so it didn’t surprise me that he needed it. I actually thought he ran particularly well, considering.

“He showed us all his old dash was still there – he seemed very happy to be back at the races, behaved himself well, so there were a lot of positives to take out of it. They went very, very hard – he sat just behind them, came through to take it up and just blew up and got tired.

“Hopefully he has come on from that. It’s an obvious fact he’s not getting any younger and at some stage he will start to slow down, but hopefully not yet.”

Battaash is a four-time Group One winner and was unbeaten in three outings last term, rounding off with a length victory in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York before a possible Breeders’ Cup challenge was ruled out.

The Dark Angel gelding has also been placed multiple times at the highest level in a career which began with a Bath novice win as a juvenile back in 2016.

However, Gold admits it will be a “special” moment if Battaash can further add to his Goodwood laurels – particularly with a crowd in attendance.

Last season also saw Stradivarius win a third Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, while Enable became the first triple victor in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes – other notable achievements which were largely witnessed on TV rather than in person.

Gold added: “It would be special for everyone – it doesn’t happen very often. It would be very special if he could pull it off.

“It’s already pretty remarkable, four years in a row – so if he can do one more, that would be even better obviously.

“It’s great for racing – him, Stradivarius and Enable last year. We were blessed last year, and sadly no one could witness it, so let’s hope we can make up for it this year.”

Dragon Symbol (right) was first past the post in the Commonwealth Cup but lost the race to Campanelle in the Stewards' room
Dragon Symbol (right) was first past the post in the Commonwealth Cup but lost the race to Campanelle in the Stewards’ room (David Davies/PA)

The market suggests Archie Watson’s three-year-old Dragon Symbol is Battaash’s main rival – but he is dropping down in trip after two creditable efforts in Group Ones over six furlongs.

One who brings top-class five-furlong form to the table is Kevin Ryan’s Glass Slippers, winner of the Flying Five in Ireland and at the Breeders’ Cup last year, while John Quinn has two live each-way chances in Liberty Beach and Keep Busy.

Arecibo has improved 21lb since his switch to Robert Cowell this season – and after finishing second in the King’s Stand two starts ago, sprint king Cowell is hoping for another bold show.

“I couldn’t have dreamt what he’s done so far for us this year,” Cowell told Sky Sports Racing.

“He’d been working very well up until the point of going to Newmarket (in April), and we thought he was a bit of a handicap good thing there, but to progress to the King’s Stand and be second there was brilliant.

“It was no fluke as he backed it up with a good performance at Sandown.

“It’s a tougher race, but we feel a better race will make him a better horse. We’re looking forward to it – the ground is right, and we’re going with a little bit of hope.”

Battaash all set to bid for fifth King George Stakes

Battaash will face 12 rivals as he bids for a fifth successive win in the King George Qatar Stakes at Goodwood.

Charlie Hills’ speedster was only fourth when trying to defend his King’s Stand title at Royal Ascot last month – but that was his first outing of the season after a setback delayed his return.

He is unbeaten at Goodwood, and reserves his best for the Sussex downs.

Glass Slippers was second to Battaash 12 months ago, and Kevin Ryan’s mare makes her seasonal reappearance in Friday’s Group Two.

She went on to win the Flying Five at the Curragh, finish second in the Prix de l’Abbaye and then win at the Breeders’ Cup in what was a fantastic season last year.

Archie Watson’s Dragon Symbol was first over the line in the Commonwealth Cup only to lose it in the stewards’ room, and then ran another fine race to be second in the July Cup to Starman.

He drops down to five furlongs for the first time since winning at Hamilton in May.

Tim Easterby relies on Art Power rather than Winter Power, in a rather surprising move, while John Quinn runs both Liberty Beach and Keep Busy.

The three-year-old filly Suesa makes the journey from France, with Aricebo representing Robert Cowell.

Jim Goldie’s veteran Euchen Glen will aim to add the Group Three l’Ormarins Queen’s Plate Glorious Stakes to his impressive tally.

The eight-year-old has already won the Brigadier Gerard and the Gala Stakes at Sandown this season, and is giving 3lb away all round.

His rivals include the Andrew Balding pair of Alounak, the choice of Silvestre de Sousa, and Fox Tal.

Outbox will have the assistance of Hollie Doyle, with Saeed bin Suroor’s rapid improver Passion And Glory stepping up in grade, while Aidan O’Brien’s Mogul has his sights lowered.

William Haggas’ unbeaten Baaeed takes what his connections will hope to be the next step along the road to the highest level in the Bonhams Thoroughbred Stakes.

He has oozed class in three victories to date en route to this Group Three.

Dee Stakes winner El Drama, Royal Ascot hero Perotto, Balding’s Tactical, Richard Fahey’s Rhythm Master and Sir Mark Todd’s Tasman Bay are among the eight runners.

Battaash heads 16 contenders for King George honours at Goodwood

Battaash will face a maximum of 15 rivals in his pursuit of a remarkable fifth successive King George Qatar Stakes at Goodwood.

Charlie Hills’ record-breaking sprinter was joined among the six-day confirmations for Friday’s Group Two feature by Kevin Ryan’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint heroine and dual European Group One winner Glass Slippers – who was also runner-up in this race 12 months ago.

Ryan’s mare has not run since her victory at Keeneland last November – while Battaash also made a late start to his campaign, after a winter setback, when he managed only fourth as he sought to retain his King’s Stand title at Royal Ascot last month.

Also in potential opposition this time are Archie Watson’s three-year-old Dragon Symbol, second in both Royal Ascot’s Commonwealth Cup and then the July Cup at Newmarket.

David Griffiths’ Ornate and John Quinn’s filly Liberty Beach, third and fourth respectively in last year’s King George Stakes and behind Battaash again when down the field in the King’s Stand, may also both try again.

Quinn could also be represented by Keep Busy, while Tim Easterby’s pair of Winter Power and Art Power are further contenders of note.

The two Group Threes on the card are the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate Glorious Stakes and the Bonhams Thoroughbred Stakes.

David Simcock’s nine-year-old Desert Encounter won the former in 2019 and was second 12 months ago to William Haggas’ Pablo Escobarr. Both may return, among 22 remaining possibles – which include another for Simcock, Oriental Mystique.

Also in the reckoning are Jim Goldie’s in-form evergreen Euchen Glen and this month’s York Group Three scorer Hukum, for Owen Burrows – while Aidan O’Brien’s Group One winner Mogul may drop down in class.

The unbeaten Baaeed, for Haggas and Battaash and Hukum’s owners Shadwell Estate, takes the eye among 13 three-year-olds in the Thoroughbred Stakes.

In potential opposition are Shadwell’s Mutasaabeq, for Hills, Roger Varian’s El Drama and Charlie Appleby’s pair La Barrosa and One Ruler.

Battaash on song in bid to complete Goodwood five-timer

Charlie Hills reports Battaash to be firing on all cylinders ahead of his bid for a fifth consecutive victory in the King George Qatar Stakes at Goodwood next week.

The brilliant sprinter has produced some of his most devastating performances on the Sussex Downs and comfortably saw off top-class filly Glass Slippers when winning this five-furlong Group Two for a fourth time 12 months ago.

An early-season setback meant the seven-year-old did not make his first start of the current campaign until Royal Ascot last month, where he had to make do with minor honours in fourth when defending his crown in the King’s Stand.

Hills is confident that comeback run has left him cherry-ripe for his next assignment on Friday.

He said: “We’ve been very fortunate to have had Battaash in this yard. He’s become a massive part of our lives over the last six years. The most important thing is to keep in one piece, but we’re happy with him at this stage

“He has been good since his run at Ascot – we’ve had no hiccups at all. I thought he ran a great race (in the King’ Stand), but they probably went a stride fast which meant, on that track, it just found him out.

“Goodwood, being a speed track, really suits him. He’s a straightforward horse to train these days and we know which races to target him for. He’s good a good routine and enjoys his work, which is the most important thing.

“He’s still very competitive when you put a horse alongside him and as long as he’s got that, then it’s pretty uncomplicated with him.”

Owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum with Battaash
Owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum with Battaash (Simon Cooper/PA)

Owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum witnessed some great performances from Battaash at Goodwood, but this will be the first King George Qatar Stakes since his passing on what will prove to be an emotional day for connections.

“Battaash was very close to Sheikh Hamdan’s heart,” Hills added.

“Over those five years, he begun to watch him grow. The day he won the Nunthorpe (at York) was a very emotional day. He was a massive supporter of the yard and we had a lot of success and great days together.

“He is sadly missed, but it’s great that his daughter Sheikha Hissa will take on the operation and I so hope Battaash can win at Goodwood for her.”

Battaash will spearhead a select team of Goodwood runners for the Hills team.

Tilsit winning at Goodwood last summer
Tilsit winning at Goodwood last summer (Mark Cranham/PA)

The Lambourn handler is looking forward to saddling Pogo in Tuesday’s Unibet Lennox Stakes, while the following afternoon Summer Mile victor Tilsit will bid for Group One glory in the Qatar Sussex Stakes.

Mutasaabeq, meanwhile, is viewed as a suitable candidate for Friday’s Group Three Bonham Thoroughbred Stakes.

Hills said: “Pogo has been running in some good races this year. We’ve always planned to come to Goodwood with him and the forecast lovely ground on day one should suit him well. He’s won over the trip, so the drop back to seven furlongs shouldn’t inconvenience him.

“Tilsit is on the up. He’s still very lightly raced and is unexposed. He should get better with the more racing he gets.

“Mutasaabeq got his head back in front at Haydock and I thought he won it well. He’s come out of Haydock pretty well, but we’re going to see how he is on Tuesday before we declare him.”

All systems go for Battaash and Goodwood

Charlie Hills is pleased with the way Battaash has recovered from his King’s Stand Stakes exertions.

While the seven-year-old lost his crown to Oxted, Hills felt he had valid excuses for the Royal Ascot reverse.

A red-hot early pace and it being Battaash’s first run of the campaign contributed to him becoming “leg-weary” in the closing stages, felt Hills, who is following his usual campaign to Goodwood next – where he will bid for a remarkable fifth successive King George Qatar Stakes success.

“He’s come out of the race really well actually, he’s been cantering away this week and we’re really pleased with him,” said Hills.

“They went really fast and with it being first time out it just caught him out.

“It’s a stiff five furlongs at Ascot, it has never really played to his strengths and he just got tired and a bit leg-weary in the last half furlong.

“He’s also there to be shot out when it transpires like that.

“We’ll go to Goodwood now, his races are pretty obvious.”

Mutasaabeq disappointed in the Jersey Stakes
Mutasaabeq disappointed in the Jersey Stakes (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Hills also held high hopes for Mutasaabeq in the Jersey Stakes, but he ran way below expectations and only beat two home.

“I don’t think the testing ground helped him, but he was beaten a long way out,” said Hills.

“I was disappointed with the run and we’ll get him fully checked over this week.

“Given his form he should have been in the mix so he’s run below par. We’ll do all the tests we can.”

Royal Ascot day one – Stars on show as crowds return to summer showpiece

The true splendour of Royal Ascot is about to return in 2021 as the course prepares for a crowd of up to 12,000 each day to witness and acclaim its equine and human heroes and heroines.

There will be no royal processions this year, but the showpiece meeting can in any case at least approach its accustomed ceremony again, after being largely silent and bereft at the height of coronavirus restrictions last year.

As the traditional sounds and sights make their comeback, a throng of rising and returning stars will bid for top billing on the opening day – with three Group One crowns there to be won in the first four races.

The curtain-raising Queen Anne Stakes has long appeared at the mercy of Palace Pier and Frankie Dettori. John and Thady Gosden’s colt has been beaten just once in his eight career starts – at this course on British Champions Day last year – and has twice been imperious again so far this year.

Ascot’s running order then showcases the juvenile potential of the Group Two Coventry Stakes – before Battaash, making his first start of the campaign after an injury-delayed preparation, bids for a second successive King’s Stand Stakes, and then the best three-year-old milers complete the top-level action in the St James’s Palace Stakes.

Two of the toughest handicaps on the calendar, over varying distances, and the Listed Wolferton Stakes close out a card full of depth and quality which extends to seven races and until after 6pm.

Palace Pier just superior in mile mission?

Palace Pier and Frankie Dettori were a class apart in last month's Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury
Palace Pier and Frankie Dettori were a class apart in last month’s Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury (John Walton/PA)

The Gosdens’ Palace Pier has looked a cut above his opponents on every rise in class, apart from his sole defeat in very deep ground in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes here last October. The son of Kingman was far too good again on both starts this year, in Sandown’s bet365 Mile and then when taking his Group One tally to four in the Lockinge at Newbury last month. It is hard to envisage anything other than a fourth top-level win in the Queen Anne Stakes, and second in succession at this meeting – on the straight course this time – following last year’s St James’s Palace.

Battaash is back …

The late Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum with his mighty sprinter Battaash after victory in the 2019 Coolmore Nunthorpe at York
The late Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum with his mighty sprinter Battaash after victory in the 2019 Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes at York (PA)

Trainer Charlie Hills has always appeared to be quietly confident Battaash would return in time to defend his King’s Stand Stakes crown, despite the injury discovered during his winter at Shadwell Stud. It was the most rewarding of sights to see the brilliant sprinter finally win at Ascot last year, after twice being outdone by Blue Point in this Group One. It will be an admirable effort if he manages to follow up, on his first start since last August, adding yet another major win to his stellar CV – and poignant too, of course, following the death of his owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum three months ago.

Like father like son – Poetic Flare out to uphold Bolger dynasty

Poetic Flare and Kevin Manning won the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket last month
Poetic Flare and Kevin Manning won the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket last month (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Veteran Irish trainer Jim Bolger is renowned for his expert handling over many years of a succession of superstar performers. Poetic Flare is, of course, already a case in point for his exploits last month – battling hard to win the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, struggling when beaten into a close sixth in the French equivalent two weeks later and then, just another six days on, going down by a short head to stablemate Mac Swiney in the Irish Guineas at the Curragh. His brilliant sire Dawn Approach won the Guineas at Newmarket and the St James’s Palace for Bolger in 2013 – and Poetic Flare is sure to give it a good go too, despite the usual high-profile opposition from the Gosden, Ballydoyle and Godolphin powerhouses.

Watch out for Ballydoyle in the Coventry

Aidan O’Brien's two-year-olds are always a threat to all
Aidan O’Brien’s two-year-olds are always a threat to all (John Walton/PA)

The Coventry Stakes is an obvious launchpad for future champions, and Aidan O’Brien is chief among the foremost who nurture such prodigious talent. It is no surprise to note the Tipperary trainer has won four of the last 10 editions – and this year he relies on improving Listowel winner The Acropolis. American filly Kaufymaker, trained by serial Ascot raider Wesley Ward, has caught the attention of bookmakers and punters too – and several other usual suspects are well represented by their latest speedy two-year-olds too, in a race sure to signpost the cream of the crop again.

Staying power is a must

Willie Mullins has won four of the last nine editions of the Ascot Stakes
Willie Mullins is a prolific winner of the Ascot Stakes (Niall Carson/PA)

Stamina will be much in evidence in the culmination of the Ascot Stakes, and will be a handy asset for spectators as well as participants by the time the fifth race of seven reaches its conclusion over two and a half miles. Punters hoping to stay the course all the way through to the getting-out Copper Horse Stakes at 6.10 may do worse than keep an eye on Willie Mullins’ contenders in both races. The record-breaking Cheltenham Festival trainer has already conquered one unlikely outpost on the Flat this year – when True Self won a huge prize in the Neom Turf Cup in Riyadh in February. Mullins has won four of the last nine runnings of the Ascot Stakes too.

Battaash ready to make up for late start in King’s Stand defence

Charlie Hills is confident Battaash will be unhindered by his lack of racecourse action since last August as he bids for back-to-back victories in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot.

The brilliant sprinter finally broke his duck at the Berkshire venue in last year’s renewal of Tuesday’s five-furlong Group One before going on to win a fourth King George Stakes at Goodwood and a second Nunthorpe at York.

Battaash has not been seen in competitive action since the latter of those triumphs 10 months ago, after a winter setback delayed his reappearance, but Hills has been delighted with his preparation for this Qipco British Champions Series contest.

The Lambourn trainer said: “Battaash came in a couple of weeks later than usual this year, so we were never going to fit in a prep run, but I couldn’t be happier with him.

“They found a tiny hairline fracture in a sesamoid when he had his usual MOT at the end of last year, but that was attended to in December.

“They’ve done a great job with him at Shadwell over the winter, and spring was so awful that coming back later has probably helped him.

“We’ve taken our time, and he hasn’t missed a beat.”

Winter Power was a brilliant winner at York last month
Winter Power was a brilliant winner at York last month (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Among the opposition in a field of 16, Tim Easterby is looking forward to saddling exciting filly Winter Power – who won at Listed and Group Three level last autumn and picked up where she left off with a hugely impressive comeback performance in last month’s Westow Stakes at York.

Easterby said: “She’s in good form. She has a good draw (stall seven) and will handle the track, so she should run well.”

Roger Teal drops last year’s July Cup hero Oxted down to the minimum distance for the first time.

The five-year-old was last seen finishing third over six furlongs in the Duke of York Stakes.

Roger Teal (left) with stable star Oxted
Roger Teal (left) with stable star Oxted (Hugh Routledge/PA)

“The draw is not too bad (stall 14). It looks like there’s plenty of pace around him, so we’re happy enough,” said Teal.

“We’re very happy with him going into it. He’s trained well – all his work is done now, and we’ll see what happens on the day.

“You always need a bit of luck, so fingers crossed.”

There are two leading contenders from America, in Brendan Walsh’s Extravagant Kid and the Wesley Ward-trained Maven.

Extravagant Kid was last seen winning the Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai and will be ridden by Frankie Dettori.

Walsh said: “We’ve had a good start to the year, and Extravagant Kid winning in Dubai was massive. Hopefully we can follow up on it at Ascot.

“Last year he was beaten a length in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. He’s won or been placed in multiple stakes and graded stakes – he’s never far away.

“It’s not Dubai. Meydan is a flatter track – it (Al Quoz Sprint) is six furlongs, whereas this is a stiff five. He’s an athletic horse, and there’s no doubt he’ll handle the undulations.

“The ground looks like it’s going to be perfect. It’s going to be the first day of the meeting, so it’s going to be really nice ground.”

Wesley Ward has high hopes for Maven
Wesley Ward has high hopes for Maven (Julian Herbert/PA)

Ward won the 2017 King’s Stand with Lady Aurelia and hopes he can add to his tally with Maven.

He said: “When Maven ran in an allowance race at Keeneland in April, we felt he was a bit short fitness-wise. On the day he bounced out in front – and when they came to him, I thought he was going to surrender, but he just took off again.

“I was delighted with that performance – and then once I saw the numbers, it inspired me to put him on the team for Royal Ascot.

“He will have to move forward from that again to be in the mix for the King’s Stand, but I think he is entitled to do so.”

Battaash back for more in King’s Stand heat

Last year’s winner Battaash leads the way in Tuesday’s King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot after all 16 horses stood their ground at the 48-hour final declaration stage.

The seven-year-old will be making a belated seasonal debut after suffering an injury during the winter, but he has been successful first time out in all five previous campaigns.

The Charlie Hills-trained speedster took the prize in grand style 12 months ago after finishing runner-up in 2018 and 2019.

He will be a warm order to repeat the dose but is expected to face strong opposition from younger sprinters headed by Tim Easterby’s three-year-old Winter Power.

Oxted drops back to five furlongs
Oxted drops back to five furlongs (Edward Whitaker/PA)

Roger Teal’s Oxted, winner of the July Cup in 2020, drops down to the minimum trip for the first time in a bid to land a second Group One.

Liberty Beach, third 12 months ago, returns for more on the back of winning the Temple Stakes at Haydock last month.

There are two American raiders in Brendan Walsh’s Al Quoz Sprint victor Extravagant Kid and Wesley Ward’s Maven, while The Queen is represented by King’s Lynn.

Ward has the ante-post favourite, Kaufymaker, in the Coventry Stakes.

The only filly in the 17-runner field, the daughter of Jimmy Creed made a big impression when romping home on her debut at Keeneland two months ago.

Aidan O’Brien relies on The Acropolis to give him a record 10th victory in the Group Two for two-year-olds over six furlongs. Masseto, trained by his son, Donnacha, is the other Irish-trained raider.

John and Thady Gosden have two live contenders in Dhadab and Tolstoy, as does Richard Hannon in Gisburn and Secret Strength.

Euchen Glen heads the Wolferton Stakes field
Euchen Glen heads the Wolferton Stakes field (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Jim Goldie’s admirable eight-year-old Euchen Glen heads 14 runners for the Wolferton Stakes.

The Authorized gelding took the Group Three Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown last month and has to carry a 5lb penalty.

A competitive line-up includes Solid Stone, Stormy Antarctic, Felix and Patrick Sarsfield.

If Felix can triumph, he will provide trainer Marco Botti with a second Royal Ascot success after Aljazzi triumphed in the 2018 Duke of Cambridge Stakes.

Aljazzi triumphed for Marco Botti three years ago at the Royal meeting
Aljazzi triumphed for Marco Botti three years ago at the Royal meeting (John Walton/PA)

Felix made significant strides on the all-weather in the winter before taking his form to a new level in Dubai when third to Lord North in the Dubai Turf – the outstanding piece of form on offer in the Listed line-up.

“The Wolferton is the plan, and it has been for a while – he loves good ground, and a mile and a quarter should suit him,” said Botti.

“He seems in good order. We freshened him up since Dubai, and everything has gone well with him.

“Oisin Murphy will ride. He rode him well in Dubai, and it’s nice he can maintain the partnership.

“He’s arguably got the best piece of form in the race – finishing third in a Group One – but while he’s dropping down into a Listed race, because it’s at Royal Ascot, it will be as strong as a Group Two or a Group Three really.

“It’s a good race, but if he can show the same form he did in Dubai he should have a good chance.

“We weren’t tempted by the Prince of Wales’s Stakes. We’d like to run in the Arlington Million later in the year if all goes to plan – and because he’s a gelding, we’ll avoid the really top-class horses if we can.”

Willie Mullins is three-handed with M C Muldoon, Rayapour and Royal Illusion as Ireland’s champion jumps trainer bids to win the Ascot Stakes for a fourth time in seven years.

Coeur De Lion and Thore Hammer Hansen triumphed last year
Coeur De Lion and Thore Hammer Hansen triumphed last year (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The Alan King-trained Coeur De Lion, winner 12 months ago, is among the 20 final declarations.

King has a leading fancy in top-weight On To Victory in the concluding Copper Horse Handicap.

Mullins goes for this mile-and-three-quarter prize with Saldier after 16 horses were declared, plus three reserves.

Palace Pier tops Queen Anne contenders

Palace Pier will face a maximum of 11 rivals when he bids for back-to-back Group One victories at Royal Ascot in the Queen Anne Stakes.

John and Thady Gosden’s star miler won a thrilling renewal of the St James’s Palace Stakes last summer – and will be a hot favourite to double his tally in the race which opens next week’s showpiece meeting on Tuesday, having made an impressive start to his campaign in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.

Circus Maximums provided Aidan O’Brien with a fourth Queen Anne success 12 months ago, and the Ballydoyle handler is once again likely to be represented – with both Lope Y Fernandez and Order Of Australia left in at the confirmation stage.

Lope Y Fernandez would need to bounce back from a disappointing effort in the Lockinge, while Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Order Of Australia could make his first appearance since finishing sixth in Hong Kong in December.

There are two previous winners of the race in contention – in David O’Meara’s 2019 scorer Lord Glitters and Accidental Agent, who claimed a shock victory in 2018.

Charlie Hills’ pair of Pogo and Tilsit, and Top Rank from James Tate’s yard, also feature.

The Hills-trained Battaash is the star name among 16 sprinters confirmed for the King’s Stand Stakes.

The brilliant Battaash winning last year's King's Stand
The brilliant Battaash winning last year’s King’s Stand (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The seven-year-old finally broke his duck at Ascot when landing last year’s renewal, before going on to win his fourth King George Stakes at Goodwood and his second Nunthorpe at York.

An early-season setback has kept Battaash off the track so far this year, but he is closing in on a comeback.

His potential rivals include Roger Teal’s July Cup hero Oxted and Tim Easterby’s exciting three-year-old filly Winter Power, who could hardly have been more impressive at York on her latest outing.

John Quinn looks set to saddle both Liberty Beach and Keep Busy, while international interest is added by two American challengers in Extravagant Kid and Maven – who are trained by Brendan Walsh and Wesley Ward respectively.

James Bredin, racing manager for Extravagant Kid’s owner DARRS Inc, said: “Extravagant Kid is doing great. I flew out to Dubai to saddle him, and he looks the same now as he did then. He is eight years of age now, so he is a great traveller. I think the key to shipping a horse is that you have to keep them eating and drinking – and he has done all that.

“We opted for the King’s Stand Stakes because Ryan (Moore) felt the strong uphill finish over five furlongs would really suit him. It probably plays like a six-furlong race anyway, but if it turns out we have got it wrong, we will blame Ryan!

“His owner David Ross claimed him out of a race at Gulfstream three and a half years ago. In America, you put your claim slip in before the race is run, so you don’t really know how things are going to work out.

“The horse was 20-1 that day and it has turned out to be a very astute claim. Mr Ross is over here now, quarantining in London, and is really looking forward to having his first Royal Ascot runner.”

The third Group One on the opening day is the St James’s Palace Stakes, for which 15 colts have stood their ground.

Poetic Flare after winning the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket
Poetic Flare after winning the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket (John Walton/PA)

Jim Bolger’s Poetic Flare has already had a busy season – winning the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, sixth in the French Guineas and second in the Irish Guineas – but looks set to turn out again.

Mostahdaf could put his unbeaten record on the line for the Gosden team. He was last seen winning the Heron Stakes at Sandown by half a length – from the Charlie Appleby-trained Highland Avenue, who could renew rivalry.

Jessica Harrington’s Lucky Vega is a leading contender, after finishing third and fourth in the English and Irish Guineas respectively.

Aidan O’Brien has left in Battleground, Ontario and Wembley.

The first two-year-old race of the week is the prestigious Group Two Coventry Stakes.

A total of 29 juveniles have been entered – including Hugo Palmer’s dual winner Ebro River, the Ralph Beckett-trained Angel Bleu, Donnacha O’Brien’s Masseto and Ward’s Kaufymaker.