Betfred Derby: The Foxes my best-ever chance, says Balding

Sun 28 May 2023
 (Photo: John Hoy / The Jockey Club)
(Photo: John Hoy / The Jockey Club)

By Graham Clark

Andrew Balding admits it would be a ‘fitting tribute to a great man’ if The Foxes could ‘headline the next chapter’ in the Betfred Derby by carrying the colours of King Power Racing’s late founder Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha to glory in the Epsom Downs showpiece on Saturday.

The Kingsclere handler believes the Churchill colt represents his best chance of securing a win in the world’s most famous Flat race and giving Park House Stables a first Derby triumph victory since father Ian Balding saddled the great Mill Reef to glory in the 1971 renewal.

Andrew Balding has been out of luck with nine subsequent Derby contenders since sending out Bonfire to finish sixth back in 2012 - his first runner in the race - yet has twice filled the runner-up spot with Khalifa Sat in 2020 and Hoo Ya Mal in 2022.

The Foxes enhanced his Betfred Derby credentials stepped up to an extended mile and a quarter with victory last time out in the Group Two Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes at York having previously finished third in the bet35 Craven Stakes at Newmarket.

With one victory in the bag this season, Balding is confident The Foxes can now fulfil an omission on his CV by securing an emotional success in memory of former Leicester City owner and chairman Srivaddhanaprabha who died in a helicopter crash in 2018.

Sponsor Betfred make The Foxes a 10-1 chance.

Derby heritage at Park House Stables: enjoy Ian Balding talking to Tom Stanley about Mill Reef in this archive feature

Balding said: “We have a rich Derby heritage here at Park House Stables and it has been quiet for more than 50 years now. It is something we want to put right one day and hopefully The Foxes is that horse.

“I’ve probably watched all the footage of those old Derbys, not just of Mill Reef, but those Derbys in the late 1970s early 1980s involving Troy, Henbit and Shergar.

“It is a wonderful race with a rich history that is ever evolving. There is a new chapter every year written about it and it would be lovely to think he could headline that next chapter.

“King Power Racing has been extremely good to me since they started and they have given me strong support since they became involved in racing.

“He (Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha) had a huge vision and this would have given him immense satisfaction as the whole thing was to play at the highest level.

“To have had a horse that is a worthy contender for the Derby is what he set out to try and achieve. I’m sure he would be very proud and it would be a fitting tribute to a great man if he did win a Derby.

“From the two that were second, Khalifa Sat and Hoo Ya Mal, he goes in there with far better credentials than they had. Kameko started the race favourite, and he deserved to be, as he was a 2000 Guineas winner but as history now tells us he didn’t stay.

“Bangkok went there as a Sandown Classic Trial winner and he went there as a lively outsider but I think this is the best chance we have had.”

 The Foxes beats White Birch to win the Al Basti Equiword Dubai Dante Stakes at York (Photo: Focusonracing)
The Foxes beats White Birch to win the Al Basti Equiword Dubai Dante Stakes at York (Photo: Focusonracing)

The first time that many racing fans would have seen The Foxes' true potential was following his victory in the Group Two Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket on his final start at two, but Balding detected the aurora of star quality much earlier.

Balding said: “From an early age we could see he was a decent horse and he was a beautiful yearling. When he came in and we sat him upsides in work he looked to have quality about him.

“He ran well enough first time out at Newbury. Royal Ascot is very important to King Power and as a result we geared him towards the Chesham.

“He ran no sort of race and was a huge disappointment. We thought he was our brightest prospect of the whole meeting.

“We regrouped and he went and won his maiden at Goodwood then he won the Royal Lodge. He did well to win that as he sat out the back for much of it but he showed his class.

“It was really after that that we started assessing what his three year old objective would be and we started with the Derby and decided to work back from that.

“We identified him from an early stage that he was a horse worthy of one of the names that was reserved. It is an important name to the family and I hope we can do it justice.”

With The Foxes having successfully passed his latest assignment on the Knavesmire, Balding is confident that he will be able to handle both the step up to the mile and a half and the razzmatazz that accompanies Derby day.

 The Foxes (Photo: John Hoy / The Jockey Club)
The Foxes (Photo: John Hoy / The Jockey Club)

He added: “I thought he was really good in the Dante. I thought he travelled like the best horse in the race and he finished off strong. He is a horse that is not going to win by large margins but he is tough in the finish.

“The way he settled at York and the way he travelled and the way he finished his race gives us hope that he will stay a mile and a half.

“Epsom this year could be different to other years if we are led to believe what we read that there might be disruptions going on but I think he is going to be less bothered about what is going on than other horses we have run in the race in the past.

“It can be an ordeal as it is a long way to the start but I hope he is the type of horse that will take it all in his stride.

“He ticks a lot of boxes in the terms that he is a dual Group Two winner, he has a fantastic pedigree, he is a beautifully balanced horse and he settles well.

“I think this horse has been a total professional so far in everything he has done.”

There will be those that question The Foxes ability to truly see out the trip with his close relation Bangkok only beating one horse home in the 2019 Derby, but Balding is optimistic those reservations will not be played out on the track.

He added: “Of course it sits on the back of your mind that Bangkok turned out to be a mile and a quarter horse and that has always been a concern.

“That might end being the case with this horse but he settles better than Bangkok and that has always been the case.

“Bangkok was always a bit eager in his races but this horse has always been very relaxed and that has got to help his cause.

“Not only that but he has a full-sister (Perotan) that has won over further than a mile and a half so that gives us some hope he is a genuine contender.”

 Andrew Balding bids for more Classic glory this term after teaming up with Frankie Dettori to land the QIPCO 2000 Guineas with Chaldean (Photo: Dan Abraham /
Andrew Balding bids for more Classic glory this term after teaming up with Frankie Dettori to land the QIPCO 2000 Guineas with Chaldean (Photo: Dan Abraham /

It has already been a memorable campaign for Balding and his team following the victory of Chaldean in this month’s QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, a success he hopes can have a positive effect on The Foxes.

He added: “The confidence is we have some nice three year old colts this year. This is a different day and a different race but it is funny when you get a nice crop of horses they tend to bring each other on and that takes them all to a higher level of achievement.

“The one thing that is going to be a factor is that a lot of these trials have been run on slow ground and the likelihood is that it will be quite a bit quicker on Saturday and that will probably be to our advantage.”

Getting the leg up aboard The Foxes will be three-time champion jockey Oisin Murphy, a man Balding is only too pleased have back on his side following his return to the saddle in February after serving a 14-month ban for alcohol and Covid breaches.

Balding added: “It has been a difficult period for him but he has bounced back and full credit to him. He is riding as well as he has ever ridden and I think he is living a lifestyle more appropriate to a champion jockey.

“We are very proud of him. Having him back and about is great as he is one of the best jockeys in the world.”

Before The Foxes takes to the track Balding could already have a second Classic of the season in the bag thanks to Sea Of Roses, who will bid to spring a surprise in the Betfred Oaks over course and distance 24 hours earlier. The daughter of Sea The Moon is currently a 40-1 chance with Betfred.

Balding, who won the fillies’ Classic with Casual Look in 2003, added: “She ran a really good race in France first time out. The race wasn’t run to suit in the Musidora and it turned into more of a sprint test. She got outpaced but she stayed on and was crying out for a mile and a half.

“While the first two in the betting look strong she is very much a lively outsider for the race.”

READ: 2023 Betfred Derby - the early guide to every contender and a tip

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