Andrew Balding: 2020 Flat Season Review

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I’m thrilled with the season we’ve had. If you’d have asked me beforehand, I’d have snapped your hand off to finish fourth in the Trainers’ Championship with 101 winners, including a win and two seconds in the Classics.

It’s a huge credit to all the team. My name is the one above the door, but the success we’ve had wouldn’t be possible without their hard work, dedication and passion.

Here are my standout moments from a season to remember.

Jockeys’ Championship

I’m so proud of what both Oisin Murphy and William Buick achieved this season in their battle to be champion jockey – riding 276 winners with only a handful separating them.

Oisin has been with us ever since coming over from Ireland and we’ve enjoyed lots of success together. William was also an apprentice here at Kingsclere and went on to be our stable jockey for a number of seasons. He still rides for us where he can.

Congratulations to Oisin for retaining his title. I’m sure he’ll be keen to defend it again next year and it promises to be another good battle between them.

2000 Guineas

media Kameko (left). Source: Getty Images

We had started upping Kameko’s work in March to get him ready for a trial in April before heading to the 2000 Guineas, but it soon became apparent those races wouldn’t be happening on the scheduled dates.

It’s tough to prepare a horse for a race when you don’t know when that race is going to happen, so it was just a case of ticking him over. The racecourse gallop he got at Kempton Park put him spot on and was a huge help in getting him to Newmarket in the best shape.

Winning a Classic is one of the biggest feats for a trainer in the UK. It was an amazing experience, despite being unable to hug Marie and Simon (our team on the day) or congratulate Oisin from a distance of less than two metres.

Royal Ascot

Royal Ascot was a mixed bag for us. Alounak ran a corker to finish second in the Hardwicke Stakes, which was arguably his best run of the season. Berlin Tango, Berkshire Rocco and Symbolize were all placed, but I can’t help feeling the first two were a tad unlucky.

But that’s racing on the biggest stage – the finest of margins define victory and defeat.

Without doubt, the highlight of the week was Tactical winning the Windsor Castle Stakes for Her Majesty The Queen. We thought he had the potential to go close, but he did it in such terrific style that it was very satisfying for us and Her Majesty, who, appropriately, enjoyed watching the race from Windsor Castle.

media Tactical. Source: Getty Images

The Derby

To come second and fourth in The Derby was a very proud achievement, though the horses didn’t finish in the order we expected.

Khalifa Sat ran his heart out in what we can all agree was a very odd race. It has always been his owner’s dream to win a Derby so, while we didn’t win, it was nice to finish second.

Despite that, it was hard to comprehend the emotion from also having the beaten favourite in Kameko, who we really expected to run a big race. He lost little in defeat in the circumstances and, perhaps if the race was run slightly differently, the end result may have been different.

Mid-summer

Every year, you get a surprise package, and Coltrane was ours this season. Hand on heart, I really didn’t think he’d progress the way he did – I almost informed the owners that he might not be worth running as he was very slow. But, ever since his first racecourse start, he just kept on improving and our perseverance was rewarded when he bolted up in the Melrose at York.

We also finished second in the Betway Solario Stakes at Sandown Park for the second year running. King Vega finished runner-up to a nice horse of Richard Hannon’s but, looking back at the race, ours was the real eye-catcher.

St Leger

Another highlight was finishing second in the St Leger with Berkshire Rocco. It was a narrow defeat, which are sometimes harder to take, but we were delighted with his run.

Both him and Khalifa Sat were bought relatively cheap from the Yearling Sales, so to have them both placed in Classics was hugely satisfying.

Alcohol Free

Winning a Group 1 is always special, but winning one for Jeff Smith, who has been an owner with our family since I was a boy, was highly emotional and gave me so much joy.

Jeff is one of the longest-standing owners in racing and his colours are widely recognised on racecourses. He’s been so loyal to us and his support is appreciated beyond words, so to be able to train a Group 1 winner for him was thrilling.

Joel Stakes and Breeders’ Cup

After the season he’d had, to win the Joel Stakes with Kameko in a very impressive time gave me a huge sense of relief. It’s so hard to give good, older horses weight. The fact he managed to beat Benbatl while giving him 5lb proved to some of his doubters that he really was a top-class three-year-old.

We had little to lose by giving him his swansong in the Breeders’ Cup. He owed us nothing and lost little in defeat. He ran a cracker and looked set to finish second 50 yards from the line. Starting his training campaign in March and then competing in some of the best races the calendar offers without running badly meant he may just have felt it by the time he arrived in America.

He was a real joy to train and will long be remembered as a special horse at Park House Stables. I hope he enjoys his new life.

media Kameko. Source: Getty Images

Horses to look forward to

I’m very excited by our current group of two-year-olds who will become three-year-olds next season. We’ve also been busy at the sales, so here’s hoping we’ve found some more stars of the future.

After winning the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes, Alcohol Free will be campaigned for the 1000 Guineas.

King Vega will put his performance in the Futurity behind him and we might look to start him off in a Derby trial in the spring.

Fivethousandtoone is very smart and ran a massive ran in the Dewhurst. He’s one to keep on your side as I think he’ll prove to be top-class.

Mystery Smiles didn’t do much wrong this season and will improve when going up in trip.

Oo De Lally improved from his first run to win his second start at Newbury at 125/1. He was even more impressive on his next start at Kempton Park where, despite going wide and carrying a penalty, he thumped a good field in a novice race.

Visit Betway’s horse racing betting page.

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