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Godolphin announce death of Balanchine, aged 30

Balanchine, who provided a historic first Classic win for both Godolphin and Frankie Dettori, has died at the age of 30.

The 1994 Oaks winner was a pathfinder for the great Italian jockey and Sheikh Mohammed’s then nascent Godolphin operation – becoming the first of many to be trained over the winter in Dubai en route to major success in Britain.

Godolphin announced the death of their dual Classic heroine on Friday, following a long retirement at Gainsborough Farm in Kentucky.

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Balanchine was trained by Hilal Ibrahim to win both the Oaks and then the Irish Derby at the Curragh, in the space of little more than three weeks.

Dettori was aboard on each occasion, having already finished a short-head second to Las Meninas in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket when he partnered the filly for the first time at the start of her three-year-old season.

Balanchine had won both her juvenile races with ease for owner-breeder Robert Sangster, before being bought by Sheikh Maktoum Al Maktoum and sent to be trained in Dubai en route to her Classic campaign.

Her historic Epsom victory came on rain-softened ground, by two and a half lengths from Wind In Her Hair – the third of four successes in eight career starts.

Dettori, just 23 at the time, later reflected on the significance for both him and Godolphin of her achievements at Epsom and the Curragh.

In an interview with Horse Racing Ireland in 2019, he said: “I was over the moon after I’d won my first Classic on her at Epsom – and I thought the next step would be the Irish Oaks.

“But Sheikh Maktoum and Sheikh Mohammed were never short of a challenge and they decided to race against the colts in the Irish Derby.

“I thought ‘God, this may be a step too far’. Obviously, I was proven wrong – because she won.”

Balanchine took charge with half-a-mile still to travel at the Curragh and easily beat Sheikh Mohammed’s King’s Theatre into second.

Dettori added: “It was my only Irish Derby win, and I was only 23, so I was ecstatic and delighted, and it was a massive feat for a filly. She was a one-off.

“It was a bold call to make a run against the colts – and that was, I guess, the stepping stone for what Godolphin is now…she was the start.”

Essential Quality proves all class for Godolphin in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

Essential Quality maintained his unbeaten record to spark Kentucky Derby dreams for Godolphin with victory in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland.

Much of the pre-race discussion focussed on the Steve Asmussen-trained Jackie’s Warrior, who had won each of his previous four starts and was all the rage to cement his place as winter favourite for next year’s ‘Run for the Roses’.

Joel Rosario was forced to take a lead behind the red-hot pace on Jackie’s Warrior – who has looked so brilliant from the front – but once he did hit strike for home it was for just a matter of strides before huge outsider Hot Rod Charlie took over and threatened to cause a major shock.

Luis Saez looks to the skies after claiming Breeders' Cup Juvenile glory with Essential Quality
Luis Saez looks to the skies after claiming Breeders’ Cup Juvenile glory with Essential Quality (Mark Humphrey/AP)

However, Essential Quality came from further back under Luis Saez and ultimately won with authority – completing a big double for trainer Brad Cox following the success of Aunt Pearl in the preceding Juvenile Fillies Turf.

Hot Rod Charlie was second ahead of Keepmeinmind in third, with Jackie’s Warrior only fourth.

Cox – recording his fifth Breeders’ Cup winner – said: “It was a tremendous effort from Luis, who stayed at him the whole way.

“He has an amazing amount of stamina and is a spectacular horse for the Godolphin operation.

“I was hoping he wouldn’t flatten out, but that never looked like happening and moving forward we will point him at the Kentucky Derby.”

It was a first Breeders’ Cup victory for Saez, who said: “Today he was very focussed and really responded when I got at him. He ran right by them.”

Asmussen felt the strong early pace contributed to Jackie’s Warrior’s downfall.

He said: “It (the pace) was too much too soon.

“He’d accomplished a lot coming here and obviously we planned on winning and ended up coming fourth.

“Pace makes the race and it did not set up well for us today.”

Earthlight retired to stud

Earthlight, a dual Group One winner as a juvenile, has been retired from racing and will stand at Kildangan Stud in Ireland in 2021.

Trained by Andre Fabre, the Shamardal colt won both the Prix Morny and Middle Park Stakes in an unbeaten five-race campaign in 2019, setting a new course record at Newmarket on the latter occasion.

Earthlight missed the early part of the 2020 season after suffering a setback, before returning with a Deauville Listed win in July, after which he finished a length behind Space Blues when fourth in the Group One Prix Maurice de Gheest.

He bounced back with a Group Three win when stepped up to seven furlongs next time, but had to settle for second in the Prix de la Foret on what was his final career start, beaten a neck by three times race winner One Master.

Godolphin’s Lisa-Jane Graffard told www.godolphin.com: “Earthlight has been the most wonderful horse to be around. He was far superior to his rivals at two, showing a decisive turn of foot in his two Group One wins, while his demeanour was always one of calm self-assurance.

“He has been a wonderful flagbearer for Godolphin, from a family that has been nurtured for generations, by the late Shamardal and out of a New Approach mare. He showed class and courage in his races and will be a great asset to the Darley stallion roster.”

Earthlight is the second Godolphin star to retire in recent days, with last year’s top juvenile Pinatubo bowing out last Friday.