There is no disputing a huge week awaits Andrew Balding at Royal Ascot. But equally it is very much a feeling of “good pressure…the pressure you want” for the Kingsclere trainer, as he prepares to send out a team captained by Classic winner Chaldean.
Balding arrives in Berkshire with a string in fine form, boasting a near 20 per cent strike-rate in the last two weeks, and with leading chances in two of the real showpiece events of the meeting.
The 2000 Guineas hero Chaldean will head his formidable team, as he takes on Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Paddington and unbeaten Cicero’s Gift in a mouthwatering St James’s Palace Stakes on Tuesday.
“Obviously, we were thrilled with his Guineas win. That was his main objective for the early part of the season and this will be his second target. This, we always hoped, would be the plan,” said Balding.
“He had a little break after Newmarket. He has freshened up well and his work has been as solid as ever and we’re looking forward to it.
“There’s pressure, obviously, he is wearing the crown at the moment and that gives you added pressure.”
Balding will run Berkshire Shadow in the curtain-raising Queen Anne Stakes, the first of three Group One races on the opening afternoon.
Beaten just under two lengths in a bunched finish in the St James’s Palace last year, he opened his four-year-old campaign with a Listed win at Wolverhampton and another success in the valuable All-Weather Mile Championship at Newcastle.
Bookmakers appear to be overlooking the Dark Angel gelding, making him a general 33-1 chance.
“He ran well when finishing third in the Lockinge next time,” said Balding, as he ran through his team sitting on a bench opposite the weighing room at Newbury, where he waited to saddle a three-year-old. “We think he’d have an each-way chance again.
“It is a tough division, but he is a high-class horse, who won a Coventry a couple of years ago.”
Dante Stakes winner The Foxes, who subsequently failed to see out the Derby trip, will not be among the yard’s runners, although Oaks eighth Sea Of Roses will take her place in the Ribblesdale.
Kempton’s Magnolia Stakes winner Foxes Tales and Notre Belle Bete, who has placed three times this year and landed over £100,000 when scoring in the All-Weather Easter Classic at Newcastle, are Balding’s contenders in the Wolferton Stakes.
“He (Foxes Tales) has a (3lb) penalty. He is in the Wolferton.” said Balding. “We have Notre Belle Bete in that too. He’s had a great season.
“We run some two-year-olds, but we don’t quite know what to expect there,” admitted Balding, before citing two horses who may fly under the radar in Imperial Fighter and Sandrine.
The former was beaten two and a half lengths by Native Trail in the Irish 2,000 Guineas last year, but has not hit the same heights subsequently.
Fifth to Regal Reality in the Diomed at Epsom on his last start, Balding feels he has started to come to hand again.
“Imperial Fighter will go in the Royal Hunt Cup,” he added. “He was third in the Irish Guineas last year but has just taken his time to find a bit of form this year, but I’m happy with him now. I think he’d have an each-way chance.”
Sandrine, owned by Kirsten Rausing, is a dual Group Two winner who landed the Lennox Stakes at Goodwood last July.
She won the six-furlong Albany on heavy ground two years ago and is equally effective on a quicker surface.
Having run over seven furlongs and a mile last season, she dropped back to six furlongs at Salisbury last month and was beaten a length and a half. She is a 16-1 chance for the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Stakes on Saturday, yet her trainer remains hopeful.
Balding said: “Sandrine could be overlooked in the Jubilee, because she is high class.
“The return to sprinting will suit her. She was a bit disappointing at Salisbury, but I think there were legitimate excuses for that.
“She seems in great nick at home and she goes there, as long as the ground is not too quick, with what we think is a great each-way chance.”
By then, he will know whether it has been a successful Royal meeting or not, particularly since he has another plum chance with Coltrane, who is a general 11-4 chance for the feature on Ladies Day – the Gold Cup.
With Aidan O’Brien’s crack stayer Kyprios unable to defend his crown through injury, Balding feels Mick and Janice Mariscotti’s six-year-old – who won the Ascot Stakes, Esher Stakes and Doncaster Gold Cup last season – has every chance of backing up his recent Sagaro success as he steps back up to two and a half miles.
“It looks an open Gold Cup,” Balding said. “The good thing about Coltrane is we know he stays and we know he loves the track. That has go to be a massive plus.
“He seems in great heart and I couldn’t be more thrilled with his Sarago win. I thought that was his best performance ever.”
Acknowledging what is to come, he said: “Of course there’s pressure. But it is a good pressure. This is the pressure you want.
“You are always happy if you get just one winner at the meeting, so fingers crossed.”