Ground promises to be key but Kameko ‘ready to go’ for QEII mission

Andrew Balding is relishing the prospect of Kameko finally facing Palace Pier on Qipco British Champions Day – as long as the ground is good at Ascot.

Balding confirmed his 2000 Guineas hero, back to winning form in Newmarket’s Joel Stakes last week, is on course to clash with John Gosden’s unbeaten miler in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, before possibly then heading to America for the Breeders Cup.

He does admit concerns about the possibility of soft ground at Ascot, however, both for Kameko on October 17 and before then – with rain forecast this week – for his St Leger runner-up Berkshire Rocco in the Teentech Noel Murless Stakes on Friday.

Asked if Kameko’s QEII plans remain in place, Balding told Sky Sports Racing: “Very much so – (but) obviously, who knows what will happen with the ground in two weeks’ time?

“He wouldn’t want it too soft, I’m sure of that. But at the same time, he’s fit and ready to go, so it’ll be a decision we have to make on the day.”

The presence of Palace Pier, who appeared to revel in heavy ground when winning the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville, promises a clash which excites Balding.

“We’ve been wanting to take him on – it’s just our paths haven’t really met,” he said.

“But I’d rather be taking him on on good ground.

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“I certainly wouldn’t be frightened of one horse. It’s going to be a strong race, plenty of depth, I’m sure – but I just hope the ground conditions are favourable for everyone.”

Palace Pier promises to be a stern rival to Kameko for QEII honours
Palace Pier promises to be a stern rival to Kameko for QEII honours (Megan Ridgwell/PA)

Keeneland may well then beckon for Kameko in early November, although Balding is mindful his three-year-old champion has already had an arduous season.

At the suggestion of travelling to America, he said: “Quite possibly – obviously that comes afterwards, and he’s had a long season on the go.

“We were preparing him for a Guineas we thought (initially) was going to be in May, so it’s been a long old time in training.

“So we’ll just have to get Ascot out of the way, and then make a decision on that.”

He was delighted to see his Classic hero win again at Newmarket, having come up short in the highest class in the interim – twice over longer trips.

“It was a bit of a relief,” added the Kingsclere trainer.

“He was carrying a 5lb Group One winner’s penalty against some very good older horses, so it wasn’t a straightforward task.

“But he did it really well, and just showed what a high-class horse he is – he’s got an extraordinary stride on him when he really hits top gear.”

As for the failed ventures over 10 and 12 furlongs, Balding said: “It’s easy with hindsight – there were mixed messages in his pedigree.

“The Derby, we knew, was a bit of a punt. But I always thought he was going to get a mile and a quarter – (then) obviously, it looked at York that he’s just short of that.”

Berkshire Rocco (red cap) went down fighting in the St Leger
Berkshire Rocco (red cap) went down fighting in the St Leger (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

By contrast, Berkshire Rocco proved at Doncaster that stamina is his forte – and Balding is optimistic about an overdue second career victory as he tries again over the same trip against just three opponents in Listed company.

“You’d hope (it’s a good opportunity), certainly on official ratings and performances so far this year,” he said.

“But there is quite a lot of rain forecast at Ascot, and that is a concern.

“He certainly handles good to soft, probably soft. But if it turned heavy, it would be a concern – (so) we’ll have to see how much rain comes, and when it comes.

“We’re an earlyish race, so I hope it will be all right.”

However he fares, Berkshire Rocco is expected to return in 2021 – with major prizes on his trainer’s wish list.

“He’s been a grand horse this year, and he stays in training and should be a fine older middle-distance horse next year,” said Balding.

“I’d say he stays well, but at the same time he’s effective at a mile and a half as well – so he’s got all sorts of options next year.

“I would have no problem running him in Group races over a mile and a half – I think he’d be very competitive.”

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