Charlie Hills has issued a positive bulletin regarding the possibility of Battaash defending his crown in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot.
The seven-year-old, who went unbeaten last season, picked up a small fracture in the winter which led to a longer lay off than usual.
After finishing second to Blue Point in 2018 and 2019 in the King’s Stand, Battaash went one better when beating stablemate Equilateral in the race last June before going on to win the King George Stakes at Goodwood for a fourth time and the Nunthorpe at York for a second time.
“He’s been back with us a week now and straight away he’s settled back into his routine of what he has done for the last few years. I’m really pleased with him,” said Hills.
“He’s not backward in his coat, which is nice as it has been pretty cold weather. I’m really pleased with where we are with him actually.
“At the moment there’s no reason why he wouldn’t make it (Ascot). His weight is pretty good and he’s showing all the same levels of enthusiasm that he always has done, so I’m happy.”
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Mutasaabeq emerged as a potential Classic contender after making an impressive start to his campaign at Newmarket.
A winner at the track on his sole juvenile start in October, the Charlie Hills-trained colt was a 7-2 chance on his return to the Rowley Mile for the bet365 British EBF Conditions Stakes.
Ridden by Jim Crowley, the son of Invincible Spirit – owned and bred by the late Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum – was sent straight to the lead and it was impossible not to be impressed by the way he extended six lengths clear at the line.
Hills said: “The way the track is and with the wind behind them, it is a bit of an advantage being in front. He has won on heavy ground, but he loved the ground today.
“We are always learning, but I think he is a very talented horse.”
Mutasaabeq is out of the top-class racemare Ghanaati, who won the 1000 Guineas in 2009 for the same connections.
Hills decided against entering Mutasaabeq for the 2000 Guineas on May 1, but did not rule out the possibility of supplementing the colt, with Betfair giving him a quote of 12-1.
Hills added: “We’ll discuss it with the management and discuss what’s best for the horse.
“We didn’t put him in the 2000 Guineas and we spoke about it at length as we were a little bit concerned temperament-wise, so we wanted to go down the soft route.
“We can have a discussion now about putting him in a race like that, but there are plenty of good races after – we could run him in a Listed race here and then go on to Royal Ascot, maybe.
“We are mindful it is a long season and there are plenty of good races we can aim for.”
Andrew Balding’s Carolus Magnus confirmed debut promise with victory in the opening Alex Scott Maiden Stakes.
Third on his Doncaster debut a couple of weeks ago, the 11-2 chance opened his account with a near two-length verdict under Oisin Murphy.
“He has done really well as he had a pretty serious injury as a two-year-old. Very unusually, he split both front pasterns, so full credit to him – he has done amazingly well to come back,” said Balding.
“They are patient, understanding owners, Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds, and they always come up with good horses. It helped he knew what he was doing today, but he is a fair horse.
“He could go a mile, so we will look at our options and make a plan from there.”
Murphy went on to complete a first and last race double aboard Arecibo (9-2), who made a successful first start for trainer Robert Cowell in the bet365.com Handicap.
Forca Brasil made a winning introduction for George Boughey in the bet365 British EBF Novice Stakes.
The 4-1 shot, who runs in the colours of football agent Kia Joorabchian’s Amo Racing Limited, was due to run in the Brocklesby Stakes at Doncaster, but had to be withdrawn on veterinary advice.
He proved his class at Newmarket, however – scoring by three-quarters of a length in the hands of Rossa Ryan to leave connections dreaming of Royal Ascot glory.
Joorabchian said: “Hopefully he will be a good horse and lead us into more fun things to come.
“It is still a little bit of a way to go to Ascot, but that is the aim and we are always trying to get there.”
Boughey added: “He has worked a few times here and it has been good.
“He looks a Norfolk horse probably, but he has done it nicely today.”
Mark Johnston’s Overwrite (16-5) claimed a narrow verdict in the Pat Smullen Memorial Handicap under a power-packed ride from Franny Norton.
Charlie Johnston, assistant to his father, said: “That was top class from the jockey and it was a masterclass on how to ride this track. I think I knew from about 200 yards in that he was going to win.
“It was a good performance. He is probably the type to try to get high enough up in the weights to sneak into the Royal Hunt Cup.”
Of Smullen, Johnston added: “It is a very nice race to win for sure. He is not someone I knew particularly well, but he was obviously a very inspirational figure in the industry, particularly what he did in his later years in trying to do as much for the benefit of others when his time was coming.”
Double Or Bubble (15-2), not seen since scoring at Ascot in September, made a superb reappearance for Chris Wall in the Price Promise At bet365 Handicap, with Jack Mitchell the winning pilot.
Wall said: “Mix And Mingle (full sister) won this race, then she won the Chartwell at Lingfield and we thought that would be on the radar for Double Or Bubble.
“She is a bit more laidback than Mix And Mingle and she will probably get a mile, so the Conqueror Stakes at Goodwood on May 1 could be another option, but we will have to see how she takes the race.
“I thought she would run well as she has been working well. I didn’t quite expect her to do that, but you live in hope.”
It is quite fitting the first and latest of Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s champion owner titles are most remembered for a sprinter.
Dayjur was the horse that lit up the 1990 campaign with five consecutive victories in the Temple Stakes, King’s Stand, Nunthorpe, Haydock Sprint Cup and Prix de l’Abbaye, before his agonising defeat in the Breeders’ Cup.
Last season it was Battaash, who finally added a Royal Ascot triumph in the King’s Stand on the way to winning the King George Stakes at Goodwood for a fourth time and claiming back-to-back victories in the Nunthorpe at York.
Battaash was one of six winners in the familiar blue and white colours at Royal Ascot, which was held behind closed doors due to the pandemic.
All six were partnered by Sheikh Hamdan’s retained rider Jim Crowley.
He knows Sheikh Hamdan, who died on Wednesday at the age of 75, would have loved to have been in attendance.
“It was such a shame last year Sheikh Hamdan couldn’t come to Royal Ascot due to Covid and watch the horses run,” he said.
“He had the most unbelievable year in 2020. But before that we’d had some great days.
“When Sheikh Hamdan came to the races we always had luck. It was great he could be at York to see Battaash win in 2019. That was probably one of the most satisfying days. It was great he could be there as well.”
Crowley, who replaced Paul Hanagan as Sheikh Hamdan’s number one at the end of 2016, felt such pride at taking the coveted position.
“It was a huge honour and a privilege to be able to to ride for him,” he said.
“He was extremely knowledgeable about his horses. He had a lot of horses in training, but he knew their pedigree inside and out. It was a huge passion for him, he loved it.
“He was very kind and generous, and loyalty is a word that stands out more than the others. You only have to look at his trainers, jockeys – everybody has been with him for the long haul. It’s just a real pleasure to have ridden for him.”
Crowley went on: “He built up a huge legacy and he’ll be missed by a lot of people.
“Sheikh Hamdan would always strive to have good horses and breed good horses as well. It’s a huge loss. He was a wonderful man and will be missed dearly.
“It’s very, very sad.”
Battaash is trained by Charlie Hills, who knew Sheikh Hamdan most of his life.
He was a big supporter of the Hills family, with Barry and son Charlie training for him and another son, Richard, being one of his retained jockeys.
“If you think of Sheikh Hamdan’s horses, then Battaash would have to be in the top three,” Charlie Hills said.
“Muhaarar was brilliant, winning four consecutive Group Ones as a three-year-old. He’s the only sprinter to do that. He was a highlight.
“He was the best to train for. It’s very sad. He’s been a constant presence in my life. He’s had horses with our family since the late 1990s and he’s been a great supporter.
“Sheikh Hamdan was not only a major owner-breeder, but he was always a huge presence at the sales.”
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Equilateral followed up a course-and-distance win four weeks ago by running out a ready scorer of the Group Two Meydan Sprint.
The six-year-old has always been highly regarded, and trainer Charlie Hills may have finally found the key to him – because he was winning two in a row for the first time in his career, on this occasion with Andrea Atzeni on board.
Nigel Tinkler’s Acklam Express caught the eye in second too, having been short of room at a crucial stage.
Hills said of the winner: “I’m really delighted. It’s nice to go and win this race.
“He’s now three from four at Meydan – which is very impressive. I think we’ll look to keep him out there for the Al Quoz Sprint.
“He likes a nice gap between his races. Nicola (Dowell), who is over there, has done a great job with him. He seems to really enjoy it over there.
“The way he finished there I can’t see six furlongs being a problem. He has a lot of speed. They didn’t go much of a gallop there today.
“It’s fantastic for Fitri and Jim (Hay, owners). They are great supporters of ours and are massive supporters of the Dubai Racing Carnival. They spend quite a bit of time over there on business, and it’s great for them to have success.”
Soft Whisper’s Saudi Derby claims were given a big boost when the horse she beat by seven lengths in the UAE 1000 Guineas, Mnasek, bolted up in the UAE Oaks.
Doug Watson’s filly was slowly away in the Guineas but came breezing around the home turn four wide under Pat Dobbs to win in fine style.
“The last two times I’ve ridden her (at home) she’s jumped very well,” said Dobbs.
“She’s a little bit shy in her mouth, so you have to be very gentle with her.
“She doesn’t have early speed and wasn’t enjoying the kick-back – and once I switched her out, she travelled super all the way.”
There was a bunched finish to the Group Two Zabeel Mile, but it was Charlie Appleby’s D’bai who narrowly came out on top under William Buick.
“He’s a lovely horse and he needs things to fall right for him,” said Buick.
“I thought he did well there to come off a slow pace.
“He had a lot of ground to make up, but his class saw him through. You just have to conserve him over a mile a little more, but this is a flat track.”
Summer Romance benefited from a good front-running ride by James Doyle to provide Appleby with a double in the Group Two Balanchine.
Winner of the Princess Elizabeth Stakes at Epsom’s Derby meeting last summer, she had clearly come forward from her first run at the Carnival in the Cape Verdi – when she was behind stablemate Althiqa.
The tables were well and truly turned, with Doyle allowed to dictate at his own tempo. Roger Varian’s Stylistique was second, as she was in the Cape Verdi.
“She’s very talented, and it’s easy to forgive her first run because she was very keen,” said Doyle.
“Charlie and his team tinkered with a few things, like mounting her in the pre-parade and headed out after all the runners and wearing a hood, which also helped.
“I was gifted the lead and I wasn’t going quick. I was hopeful she’d hit the line well, and she stuck to her guns.”
Appleby said: “Those fillies will have a little break now. We’ll look at races at Royal Ascot, the Falmouth, and there might be some in France that suit.”
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Equilateral will remain in Dubai for next month’s Meydan Sprint following his victory there last week.
The Charlie Hills-trained six-year-old took the Dubai Dash for the second year running and will now try to atone for a narrow defeat in the Meydan Sprint last February.
Hills reports the Equiano gelding to have come out of his recent exertions in good form.
“I was really delighted with him. Frankie (Dettori) gave him a great ride and it looked like he was always going to win the race,” said the Lambourn trainer.
“It’s nice to have won the race twice now and he was 5lb worse off than last year.
“He seems to have come out of the race in great order and we’ll train him for the Group Two.”
Equilateral’s best effort in defeat last year came when he was second to stablemate Battaash in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Hills revealed the five-furlong Group One is likely to be the brilliant seven-year-old’s starting point in 2021.
“Battaash is still on his winter break,” he said.
“He doesn’t normally come in until the beginning of March. They all seem very happy with him. He’s enjoying his hols at the moment.
“Last year he would probably have gone to Haydock (for the Temple Stakes) had that race been on. He’s won first time out every year, so I think we’ll just save him for Royal Ascot.”
Hills’ highly-promising and lightly-raced four-year-old Tilsit is being prepared for a possible trip to Saudi Arabia next month.
The First Defence colt, winner of the Thoroughbred Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, holds entries in the Saudi Cup and the Middle Distance Turf Cup in Riyadh on February 20.
“He’s in those two races and we’re looking at it,” he said.
“Hopefully we’ll run him. We’ll see how he is in a couple of weeks.”
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Battaash has been ruled out of Sunday’s Prix de l’Abbaye due to concerns over the testing ground at ParisLongchamp.
The six-year-old is unbeaten in three starts this term for Charlie Hills, having bagged the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot, the King George Stakes at Goodwood and the Nunthorpe at York on his most recent outing in August.
He had been due to have a fourth crack at the Abbaye this weekend, having won the race in 2017 and finished fourth in 2018 before coming home a disappointing 14th on very soft ground last year.
The prospect of similar conditions this year following a wet week in Paris has forced connections into a rethink.
Hills said: “They have had 13 millimetres of rain overnight, added to the rest earlier in the week.
“I think it was 4.1 on the penetrometer last year and it’s probably going to be the same, if not worse than that, this year, so we won’t be running.”
When asked if Battaash could now head to next month’s Breeders’ Cup meeting, Hills replied: “We’ll have to see how he is.
“There’s one obvious race for him in America, but we’ll just have to see.”
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Battaash remains an intended runner in the Prix de l’Abbaye as things stand, despite the prospect of very soft ground at ParisLongchamp.
Charlie Hills’ stable star could finish only 14th behind Glass Slippers in the race 12 months ago, in a defeat many put down to the soft ground.
The six-year-old gelding has been imperious this season, winning at Royal Ascot for the first time in the King’s Stand, collecting a fourth King George Stakes at Goodwood and claiming a second Nunthorpe at York.
His only success on ground described officially as soft came in 2017 – when the Prix de l’Abbaye was run at Chantilly during Longchamp’s redevelopment.
“We haven’t got as far as saying he is 100 per cent a definite runner, but from what I’ve been told it’s going to be very soft,” said Angus Gold, owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s racing manager.
“Who is that going to suit? I don’t know. At the moment he runs, but if it turns into an absolute quagmire I can’t tell you – but at the moment he runs.
“Everyone has their own theories about it. I don’t personally think it was the ground that beat him last year, he was just never at the races so I wouldn’t say that.
“We know he handles easy ground, it was soft when he won the Abbaye. If it was to get really bad – I can’t tell you.”
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Prix Morny third Rhythm Master is one of eight colts declared for the Dubai Duty Free Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury on Saturday.
A runaway winner on his racecourse debut at Haydock in mid-July, Richard Fahey’s son of Dark Angel subsequently ran an excellent race to place behind a couple of Royal Ascot winners in Campanelle and Nando Parrado when stepped up to Group One level at Deauville.
The John Dance-owned juvenile will be well fancied to get back on the winning trail in this weekend’s Group Two feature in Berkshire.
Rhythm Master’s rivals include the unbeaten Bahrain Pride. Simon and Ed Crisford’s inmate made a successful start to his career at Windsor before following up in the Listed EBF Ripon Champion Two Yrs Old Trophy last month.
Andrew Balding’s Fivethousandtoone was runner-up to Bahrain Pride at Windsor and renews rivalry off the back of a dominant display at Newcastle a little over a fortnight ago.
Line Of Departure completed a hat-trick for Roger Varian in a valuable sales race at Doncaster last week and is swiftly stepped up to Pattern class, while Mick Channon will be hoping his Group Three winner Cairn Gorm can bounce back from a below-par effort in the Morny.
Alkumait (Marcus Tregoning), Devilwala (Archie Watson) and First Edition (Clive Cox) complete the octet.
The Charlie Hills-trained Equilateral, not beaten far into sixth place in the Flying Five at the Curragh last Sunday, heads a nine-strong field for the Group Three Dubai International Airport World Trophy.
The five-year-old is taken on by Cox’s recent Leicester scorer Tis Marvellous, Charlie Appleby’s Lazuli and Moss Gill from James Bethell’s yard, among others.
Group Three honours are also up for grabs in the Dubai Duty Free Legacy Cup – formerly The Arc Trial.
The likely favourite for this one-mile-three-furlong contest is Extra Elusive, who bids to complete a Group Three hat-trick for Roger Charlton and Hollie Doyle follow strikes in the Rose of Lancaster at Haydock and the Winter Hill at Windsor.
With the William Haggas-trained Addeybb and Balding’s Fox Chairman instead declared to run in Saturday’s Doonside Cup at Ayr, Extra Elusive faces just three opponents in Desert Encounter (David Simcock), Elarqam (Mark Johnston) and Gifts Of Gold (Saeed bin Suroor).
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