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Breeders’ Cup mission expected to suit Kameko

Andrew Balding believes Kameko will be suited by the American style of racing when his star colt lines up for the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland next month.

The 2000 Guineas winner will retire to stud after the race – and Balding is hoping the son of Kitten’s Joy can end his career on a high.

The Kingsclere trainer was disappointed Kameko could not sign off his domestic racing days in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot last weekend because of the testing conditions.

“It was a shame to have missed Qipco Champions Day, but we just didn’t feel we could risk him on the ground at this stage of his career,” Balding told Sky Sports Racing.

“I think it’s going to be a totally different test in America and we’ve got the travel and everything to contend with.

“I’m really pleased with his condition and how he has held his form in his home work since so early in the year. He’s an absolute star and worked really well (on Wednesday) – Oisin (Murphy) came in and had a sit on him.

“He’s a horse with a high cruising speed and loves a strong pace to aim at, and that is usually how those races are run. In any normal Breeders’ Cup Mile he’d be well suited.”

Kameko to retire to Tweenhills Stud at end of the season

Qipco 2000 Guineas winner Kameko will be retired to stand at Tweenhills Stud, home of the Qatar Racing stallions, at the end of the season.

The Andrew Balding-trained three-year-old, the fastest ever winner of the colts’ Classic at Newmarket, will have his swansong on the track in the Breeders’ Cup in Keeneland.

Kameko won the Group One Vertem Futurity Trophy at Newcastle as a two-year-old and gave weight and a beating to older horses in the Group Two Joel Stakes on his latest start.

Balding said: “Kameko is without doubt the best horse I’ve trained. He has all the attributes of a top-class miler and is a striking horse to look at. I feel very honoured to have had the opportunity to train a horse of such class.”

Kameko was a first British Classic winner for jockey Oisin Murphy, who said: “I felt from the very beginning that this could be a special horse.

“He’s the perfect model – he has size, durability and a great character. To ride, he has super balance, a great turn of foot and a good mind – you can put him anywhere in a race. He’s a machine.”

Sheikh Fahad Al-Thani, chairman of Qatar Racing, said: “My brothers and I are delighted to own another superstar in Kameko, whose record-breaking two and three-year-old campaigns will live long in our memory. We cannot wait to unveil him to breeders.”

Kameko to miss Champions Day and head straight to Breeders’ Cup

Kameko will bypass Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday and head straight to next month’s Breeders’ Cup meeting.

The 2000 Guineas winner bounced back to winning ways with victory in the Joel Stakes at Newmarket late last month, following a luckless run that had seen him finish fourth in the Derby, Sussex Stakes and Juddmonte International.

Trainer Andrew Balding and owners Qatar Racing had been considering an outing in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, but the likelihood of very soft ground means the Kitten’s Joy colt will instead plot a direct route to the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland on November 7.

David Redvers, racing manager for Sheikh Fahad’s operation, said: “Given the ground at Ascot is going to be testing, Kameko will go straight to the Breeders’ Cup and will not run on Saturday.”

Kameko had been as short as 4-1 with some bookmakers for the Ascot Group One, with the John Gosden-trained Palace Pier an odds-on favourite.

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.”

Joel joy for Kameko at Newmarket

Classic hero Kameko made a triumphant return to Newmarket with a comfortable success in the Shadwell Joel Stakes.

Andrew Balding’s stable star has raced over a variety of different trips since his career-defining victory in the 2000 Guineas – finishing fourth over a mile and a half in the Derby, over a mile in the Sussex Stakes and over a mile and a quarter in the Juddmonte International.

Back over the Rowley Mile for this Group Two assignment, Kameko was being niggled along by Oisin Murphy at the halfway stage, but displayed courage and class to respond to the champion jockey’s urgings and take over the lead from last year’s winner Benbatl.

Just as the 85-40 chance looked to have victory sewn up, Regal Reality finished with a flourish, but Kameko always appeared to have matters in hand and passed the post half a length to the good.

Benbatl was not disgraced in finishing third on his first start since the Saudi Cup in February.

Balding said of the winner: “It was not easy giving weight to good horses. He always hits a flat spot in his races and he stops a little bit in front. I thought he might hit the front a bit too soon.

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“It was going to be a long wait until Ascot and/or the Breeders’ Cup, if the ground is bad at Ascot, and he is a horse that could have done with a run in between.

“One hundred per cent that was as good as his Guineas win. There was no hiding place today with the penalty and proper, good older horses in the race.

“I don’t think we have had a fair crack of the whip with him this year. The horse has not had the campaign that we really wanted.”

Kameko (right) saw off Benbatl (centre) and Regal Reality to win the day
Kameko (right) saw off Benbatl (centre) and Regal Reality to win the day (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Kameko is likely to make his next appearance in either the QEII at Ascot on October 17 or at the Breeders’ Cup.

Balding added: “I think there is no doubt he is a miler and that was a really good effort. He has done it on slightly slower ground today, but full credit to the horse – he is very decent.

“I’d like to go to Ascot, personally. At some stage it would be interesting to see what he could do on soft ground and the likelihood is it will be slower at Ascot than it was today, but that is the unknown.

“It will be the owner’s decision. He is a very valuable horse as a stallion and I don’t want to take the risk that might effect his appeal to breeders at stud.”

On whether Kameko will stay in training next season, he said: “I think that is a decision the owner and the Qatar Racing team will take shortly. I don’t have a final answer, but I think the likelihood is that he will be at stud next year.”

Murphy said: “I’m delighted for Sheikh Fahad (owner) and everyone. To give weight away to older horses is a very difficult task and he stuck his head out and did everything right in the race.

“He ran straight as a die. He is so tough and consistent and, on ratings, I think that will rate higher than his Guineas win as to give weight away to older horses shows what a top horse he is.

“He is a very intelligent horse. I took him down in a hack canter and I had him really quiet at the gate. If I lit him up at all, he would have travelled really on the bridle. I was happy for him to race a little lazily today.”

Saeed bin Suroor was satisfied with Benbatl’s run and an Ascot rematch could be a possibility.

He said: “Frankie (Dettori) said he needed the race. He will improve for the race. He is entered at Ascot in the Champion Stakes and the QEII and we will have a look at both and see. He will be ready for both of those races, but he doesn’t want soft ground.

“It is unlikely that he would go to America. I would say after Ascot he will go back to Dubai.”

Oisin Murphy anticipating tough test for Kameko in Joel Stakes

Oisin Murphy is well aware of the task facing 2000 Guineas Kameko as he prepares to lock horns with Benbatl in the Shadwell Joel Stakes at Newmarket on Friday.

Andrew Balding’s Kameko provided the reigning champion jockey with his first Classic success over the course and distance in early June.

Murphy also knows the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Benbatl well, having steered him to two of his three Group One wins to date, and when he dominated from the front in this Group Two contest 12 months ago.

Murphy said: “Benbatl is one of the highest-rated horses in the world and Kameko is a Classic winner who ran the fastest ever Guineas, so it’s a mouthwatering prospect.

“It will be hard for Kameko with the penalty – we have to give Benbatl 1lb – but there were limited options and he’s in super form and ready to run.

“I obviously love Benbatl. I only raced against him once and that was in the Juddmonte International when I won on Roaring Lion.

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“I’ve ridden Benbatl in work recently as well and he’s also in super form.”

Oisin Murphy knows Benbatl well
Oisin Murphy knows Benbatl well (John Walton/PA)

Kameko has plied his trade over a variety of different trips since his Guineas triumph – finishing fourth over a mile and a half in the Derby, over a mile in the Sussex Stakes and over a mile and a quarter in the Juddmonte International.

Murphy feels the return to a mile will see him at his best in what is a prep race for next month’s QEII at Ascot.

Murphy added: “He travelled very well in the Sussex and got into second place in the Juddmonte, having sat last, and then his run petered out at the line.

“Hopefully the ground continues to dry today – both he and Benbatl want top of the ground.”

Frankie Dettori and Saeed bin Suroor team up
Frankie Dettori and Saeed bin Suroor team up (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)

Following last year’s success, Benbatl floundered in the mud in the QEII at Ascot, but he bounced back with successive wins in Dubai earlier this year.

Third place in the inaugural Saudi Cup set him up for a tilt at World Cup glory, only for the Meydan showpiece to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Benbatl missed his intended comeback in last month’s Celebration Mile due to the prevailing rain-softened ground at Goodwood – and Bin Suroor is keeping his fingers crossed conditions on the Rowley Mile are not too testing for Frankie Dettori’s mount.

Bin Suroor said: “Benbatl is doing good. He did his last piece of work on the Watered Gallop here in Newmarket and he is doing really well.

“It is his first run in Europe since he went to Dubai and Saudi Arabia. We are looking for a good result from him.

“It’s a tough race, but he won it last year and it’s the right race for him.

“We don’t want the ground to be too soft – good ground would be good for him.”

Six runners remain after both Duke Of Hazzard and Urban Icon were pulled out on Friday morning, because of softening ground.

The field is completed by Regal Reality, Top Rank, Zabeel Prince and Tilsit.

Kameko to clash with returning Benbatl in Joel Stakes

Andrew Balding’s 2000 Guineas winner Kameko faces off against Benbatl – who returns to defend his title in the Shadwell Joel Stakes at Newmarket.

Friday’s Group Two contest has attracted a high-class field, with James Tate’s improving Top Rank and Charlie Hills’ unexposed Tilsit also among the eight declared.

Things have not entirely gone to plan for Kameko since his Classic victory, failing to stay in the Derby and then meeting trouble in running at Goodwood.

He was no match for Ghaiyyath at York last time out over 10 furlongs, and connections are keen to see him back over a mile.

Benbatl has not run since a creditable third in the inaugural Saudi Cup on dirt back in February. He was declared for the Celebration Mile at Goodwood but withdrawn on the morning of the race because of soft ground, and his trainer Saeed bin Suroor will no doubt be anxiously watching the skies again.

Top Rank has been beaten just once in his six races to date, having seen off My Oberon in a Group Three at Haydock last time out, while Tilsit also got the better of that same rival in controversial circumstances when causing interference at Goodwood.

Adding further quality are Regal Reality, Zabeel Prince, Urban Icon and Duke Of Hazzard.

A field of five for the Shadwell Rockfel Stakes includes Aidan O’Brien’s Monday, a Listed winner last time out, and David Loughnane’s Santosha – who blew her chance in the Lowther with a slow start.

Isabella Giles is another with claims in the Group Two.

William Haggas’ Sea Of Faith is back out again quickly in the Princess Royal Muhaarar Stakes, having won in France last weekend.

Antonia De Vega, Alpinista, Franconia, Katara and Queen Daenerys complete the six-strong field for the wide-open Group Three.

Monday Musings: Rapid Start Far From Flat

The two unbeaten favourites didn’t collect the first two Classics of the UK racing season as many, including the bookmakers, were expecting, writes Tony Stafford. Pinatubo was a slightly one-paced third as Kameko gave Andrew Balding a second UK Classic in the 2,000 Guineas, 17 years after Casual Look was his first in the Oaks. Yesterday, Love made it six 1,000 Guineas triumphs for Aidan O’Brien, four in the last six years, as the Roger Charlton filly Quadrilateral also had to be content with third place.

For quite a while in Saturday’s big event, staged behind closed doors of course, it looked as though O’Brien would be celebrating an 11th “2,000” – from back home in Ireland as he left on-course matters to be attended to by his accomplished satellite team. Wichita, turning around last October’s Dewhurst form both with Pinatubo and his lesser-fancied-on-the-day stable companion Arizona, went into what had looked a winning advantage under super-sub Frankie Dettori until close home when the Balding colt was produced fast, late and wide by Oisin Murphy.

The young Irishman might already be the champion jockey, but the first week of the new season, begun eight months after that initial coronation last autumn, suggests he has a new confidence and maturity built no doubt of his great winter success in Japan and elsewhere. A wide range of differing winning rides were showcased over the past few days and Messrs Dettori and Moore, Buick, Doyle and De Sousa clearly have an equal to contend with.

It was Dettori rather than Moore who rode Wichita, possibly because of the relative form in that Dewhurst when Wichita under Ryan got going too late. This time Arizona got his lines wrong and he had already been seen off when he seemed to get unbalanced in the last quarter-mile. Kameko will almost certainly turn up at Epsom now. Balding was keen to run Bangkok in the race last year despite that colt’s possible stamina deficiency. The way Kameko saw out the last uphill stages, he could indeed get the trip around Epsom a month from now.

The 2020 Guineas weekend follows closely the example of its immediate predecessor. Last year there was also a big team of O’Brien colts, including the winner Magna Grecia, and none was by their perennial Classic producer, Galileo. The following afternoon, the 14-1 winner Hermosa, was Galileo’s only representative in their quartet in the fillies’ race. This weekend, again there were four Ballydoyle colts in their race, and none by Galileo. Two, including Wichita, are sons of No Nay Never. As last year, there was a single daughter of Galileo in yesterday’s race, the winner Love. Her four and a quarter length margin must make it pretty much a formality that she will pitch up at Epsom next month.

Love was unusually O’Brien’s only representative yesterday which rather simplified Ryan Moore’s choice. It will surely be hard to prise her from him at Epsom whatever the other Coolmore-owned fillies show at The Curragh and elsewhere in the interim.

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With Irish racing resuming at Naas this afternoon, attention will be switching immediately to the Irish Classics next weekend. What with those races, which Ryan will sit out under the 14-day regulations, the Coolmore owners and their trainer will have a clear course to formulate their Derby team and Oaks back-up squad. It would appear that the good weather enjoyed in the UK after which so many big stables, notably Messrs Johnston, Gosden and Balding, have made a flying start on the resumption, has also been kind to Irish trainers.

I know that sometimes in the spring the grass gallops at Ballydoyle have barely been usable by the time of the first month of action. The delayed and truncated first phase should continue to be to the benefit of the more powerful yards and maiden races, just as those in the UK, are already looking like virtual group races, especially on the big tracks.

Aidan O’Brien has 11 runners on today’s opening card, including four in the second event for juveniles, where Lippizaner, who managed a run in one of the Irish Flat meetings squeezed in before the shutdown, is sure to be well fancied. A son of Uncle Mo, he was beaten half a length first time out and the experience, which is his alone in the field, should not be lost on him.

The shutdown has been a contributor to a denial of one of my annual pleasures, a leisurely look at the Horses in Training book which I normally buy during the Cheltenham Festival but forgot to search for at this year’s meeting. The usual fall-back option of Tindalls bookshop in Newmarket High Street has also been ruled out, and inexplicably I waited until last week before thinking to order it on-line.

There are some notable absentees from the book and it has become a growing practice for some of the bigger trainers to follow the example of Richard Fahey who for some years has left out his two-year-olds. John Gosden has joined him in that regard otherwise they both would have revealed teams comfortably beyond 250.

Charlie Appleby, William Haggas, Mark Johnston, Richard Hannon and Andrew Balding all have strings of more than 200 and all five have been quick off the mark, each taking advantage of a one-off new rule instigated by the BHA. In late May trainers wishing to nominate two-year-olds they believed might be suitable to run at Royal Ascot, which begins a week tomorrow, could nominate them and thereby get priority status to avoid elimination with the inevitable over-subscription in the early fixtures.

In all, 163 horses were nominated with Johnston leading the way with 11; Charlie Appleby and Fahey had eight each; Hannon and Archie Watson seven and Haggas five. All those teams have been fast away in all regards but notably with juveniles. The plan, aimed at giving Ascot candidates racecourse experience in the limited time available, has clearly achieved its objective.

Among the trainers with a single nominated juvenile, Hughie Morrison took the chance to run his colt Rooster at Newmarket. Beforehand he was regretting that he hadn’t realised he could have taken him to a track when lockdown rules could apparently have been “legally bent” if not actually transgressed. Rooster should improve on his close seventh behind a clutch of other Ascot-bound youngsters when he reappears.

When I spoke to Hughie before the 1,000 Guineas he was adamant that the 200-1 shot Romsey “would outrun those odds”. In the event Romsey was the only other “finisher” in the 15-horse field apart from Love and, in getting to the line a rapidly-closing fifth, she was only a length and a half behind Quadrilateral. So fast was she moving at that stage, she would surely have passed the favourite in another half furlong. The Racing Post “analysis” which said she “lacked the pace of some but kept on for a good showing” was indeed damning with faint praise. Hughie also could be pleased yesterday with a promising revival for Telecaster, a close third behind Lord North and Elarqam in the Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Haydock despite getting very warm beforehand.

No doubt I’ll be returning to Horses in Training quite a lot in the coming weeks, but just as the long list of Galileo colts and fillies was dominant among the Ballydoyle juveniles for many years, the numerical power of Dubawi among Charlie Appleby’s team is now rivalling it. Last year, when I admit I didn’t really notice it, there were 40 Dubawi juveniles: this year the number has grown to an eye-opening 55. At the same time the yard has gone well past 200, reflecting his upward trajectory ever since taking over the main Godolphin job ten years ago. I’m sure Pinatubo has some more big wins in his locker.

I always look forward to seeing the team of Nicolas Clement, French Fifteen’s trainer, in the book, and he is there as usual with his middling-strength team. Nowadays much of what used to pass for free time for this greatly-admired man is taken up with his role as the head of the French trainers. He confessed that carrying out his duties over the weeks in lockdown and then the changes in the areas in France where racing could be allowed had been very demanding.

This weekend, Nicolas along with everyone in racing had a dreadful shock when his younger brother Christophe, who has been training with great success in the US for many years, suffered a terrible tragedy. On Saturday a Sallee company horsebox, transporting ten Clement horses from Florida to race in New York burst into flames on the New Jersey Turnpike, killing all ten animals. One report suggested that the horsebox had collided with a concrete stanchion. It added that the two drivers attempted to free the horses but were unable to do so.

At the top level, where both Clement brothers have been accustomed to operating on their respective sides of the pond, the rewards can be great. But as this incident graphically and starkly shows, there is often a downside for trainers and owners, though rarely one of quite this horrific finality.

- TS