By Jon Lees
GB: Trainer Charlie Hills has “never been as excited by a horse” as he is by Khaadem, who will join champion sprinter Battaash in a stable bid to take out Royal Ascot’s two historic sprint prizes next month.
The Lambourn trainer has unfinished business in the King’s Stand Stakes, in which he hopes Battaash can atone for two near-misses in the 5f sprint by landing the day one feature at the third attempt.
The 6f Diamond Jubilee Stakes is also in his sights with Khaadem, last year’s Stewards’ Cup winner. The four-year-old has made such progress over the winter that Hills believes he is ready to make his breakthrough at the top level, having been well beaten in two subsequent G1 sprints.
“Khaadem is flying so he will go straight to the Diamond Jubilee,” said Hills. “He is one I am really, really excited about. I’ve never been so excited by a horse.
“At Goodwood he looked really impressive, then unfortunately for him the ground was so soft when he ran those two races afterwards. He had a bit of a foot problem as well leading up to Haydock [Betfair Sprint Cup] which wasn’t ideal preparation. Then it was pretty much bottomless when he went to Ascot.
“Hopefully we can put a line through them. I couldn’t be more pleased with the way the horse has wintered.”
Battaash will also head to Royal Ascot without a prep race as the Temple Stakes, his usual warm-up, has not survived Britain’s fixture list revamp.
Europe’s fastest horse, who smashed Dayjur’s course record in a blistering Nunthorpe Stakes triumph at York last summer, has finished second twice in the King’s Stand Stakes after launching his campaign with victory at Haydock.
On both visits to the royal meeting Battaash was toppled by Blue Point but this year’s attempt will go ahead without his Godolphin opponent, who is now at stud.
“Battaash will go straight to Ascot but I wouldn’t mind trying to work him somewhere before the meeting. I was thinking about taking him to Newmarket but it doesn’t seem we can work horses on racecourses on a raceday.
“There is not much point in him running in anything else before Ascot [such as the Palace House Stakes]. He has won first time out all the years he has been racing so I don’t think it’s so important we get a prep run into him.”
Reflecting on Battaash’s Ascot performances, Hills added: “Blue Point was pretty much unbeatable at Ascot when we ran there. But I think if people watch last year’s race, you will see he was drawn one, he completely missed the break so had to give them a lot of ground.
“He ended up having to make too much up in a key stage of the race and that brought more stamina into the race. That’s where Blue Point’s advantage comes into play.
“It would be nice if he could win a King’s Stand one day. Take Blue Point out of the race and he would have won it twice. It is what it is and what racing’s all about.”
Starting the season a month later could open other options for Battaash at the end of year, according to Hills, who had hoped to take Battaash to the Breeders’ Cup last year.
“He’s got a race less now already,” he said. “Those options will be left open as he will be a fresher horse going into the autumn than other years. I think this year we have to keep our minds wide open to opportunities.”
From his three-year-old team Persuasion could be the stable’s only Guineas entry. The colt ran three times last year, winning on debut and ending the campaign with a second place in the G3 Somerville Tattersall Stakes.
“Persuasion has enough form so we would certainly consider the 2,000 Guineas for him,” he said. “We have to be mindful that we have the Jersey as well not far behind. I think a lot of decisions are going to be last minute.”