At Royal Ascot, Andrew Balding was winning for Her Majesty the Queen, now at the Derby he is aiming is to topple a king.
English King is ranked at the bookmakers’ favourite, with Balding’s Kameko only marginally less fancied because of concerns in his pedigree over staying the distance.
In his last piece of work at Kingsclere, the three-year-old colt showed enough to suggest his name could become central to Balding’s surroundings.
“Yards here are named after Derby winners trained here so there’s a constant reminder of the level that’s expected,” he said. As for a new Kameko yard, Balding is quietly confident.
The horse’s form has been good. At the 2000 Guineas, the build-up was all taken up by a supposed wonder horse in Pinatubo, who had swept all asunder as a two-year-old. Kameko made him look ordinary.
“I read in various places that it was a sub-standard Guineas but that just doesn’t happen,” said Balding. “He was very impressive.
“But the big question, the unknown is his stamina and that will be tested to the limit. So that’s why he’s 4-1 rather than evens. I’m only concerned from a pedigree point of view.
“His running style suggests he can do it, he relaxes well and he’s very strong at the end of fast races after a stiff mile. I’m fairly confident that he’ll stay.”
The importance of the Derby has been imparted to Balding since birth. He was born the year after Mill Reef won the race in 1971 for his father Ian. And a bronze statue in his stables is a reminder of a horse which won 12 of its 14 races and came second in the other two.
“This is singularly the most important race of the year and probably of a trainer’s lifetime,” said the younger Balding. “It’s the one we all want to get on the CV at some stage.”
Balding’s CV has been burgeoning since horse racing’s return from lockdown. As well as winning a first Guineas – a race his father had never been victorious in – he also guided the Queen’s horse Tactical to a win, aptly in the Windsor Castle Stakes.
And Balding said of Ascot’s most notable absentee: “It’s a real shame that she couldn’t be there as she bred the horse. I called her before the race and, if it goes well, it’s the case you ring afterwards. She was delighted but there was a frustration at missing her first Royal Ascot in years.”
Her Majesty looks likely to tune into ITV Racing on Saturday to see if Balding can add another Classic winner in the post-lockdown sporting spectre.
With Kameko having eclipsed every one of the 200 horses at Kingsclere, his trainer is confident he will be up to the occasion.
“He’s a very laid-back horse and very relaxed until you ask him to do the work and then he really steps through the gears,” he said. “A crowd might have been less of a disadvantage to him than other horses but the reality is the best horse will win this race.
“All being well, he will stay, take it all in and be the winner. But it could be English King is the best horse. The bookies think he is but he’s only had three runs and beat a horse of mine last time out. There’s a lot of untapped potential there but the fact is Kameko has done it.”
The two horses also nicely pit two jockeys at either end of their careers in Oisin Murphy on board Kameko and Frankie Dettori riding English King.
Against the infinitely more experienced Dettori, Balding said of Murphy: “In big races, he has the big match temperament. He’s a good horseman, has good hands which you need in a race like the Derby and he’s tactically very aware. He’s a special talent and always has been.”
The same could be said of Kameko.
The Investec Derby at Epsom on Saturday 4th July is part of the 2020 QIPCO British Champions Series. For more info go to britishchampionsseries.com