Spanish Mission’s departure to Australia has been delayed and he will now miss his intended start in next month’s Caulfield Cup.
The five-year-old was due to fly this weekend with the first shipment of Spring Carnival challengers, but after suffering with muscle spasms while exercising in quarantine in Newmarket, he will not leave as planned.
Andrew Balding’s charge, who was last seen finishing a narrow second to Stradivarius in the Lonsdale Cup at York, is now due to travel early next month, but new rules mean he will not be allowed to contest the Caulfield Cup and will instead chart a direct route to the Melbourne Cup instead.
A statement from Racing Victoria said: “UK trainer Andrew Balding has advised Racing Victoria (RV) that Spanish Mission will no longer fly to Melbourne this weekend and will instead arrive on Saturday, October 9 with a second shipment of international entrants for the Spring Racing Carnival.
“The change in travel plans means that Spanish Mission will no longer contest the $5 million Carlton Draught Caulfield Cup on October 16 and will exclusively target the Lexus Melbourne Cup at Flemington on November 2.
“Balding advised RV that Spanish Mission had incurred a slight setback (muscle spasms in his flanks) following exercise whilst in Pre-Export Quarantine (PEQ) in Newmarket and had missed some ridden exercise as a result.
“The stable has elected to take a cautious approach with the horse upon his return to ridden exercise today and have thus deferred their travel to the second shipment.”
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Spanish Mission is going into quarantine in Newmarket on Thursday ahead of his trip to Australia where he has the Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup as targets.
Trainer Andrew Balding reports the five-year-old stayer to be in fine shape following his latest outing in the Lonsdale Cup at York, where he went down by a head to Stradivarius after a titanic battle.
“He goes into quarantine in Newmarket – I couldn’t be happier with him, he’s come out of York great,” said Balding.
“He’s passed all his required veterinary checks and goes into two weeks’ quarantine and then will be shipped to Australia for the Caulfield Cup and hopefully the Melbourne Cup as well.”
Under the tough Covid restrictions in Australia, Balding is unable to send a member of staff with this year’s Yorkshire Cup winner and 2020 Doncaster Cup victor – but he has managed to overcome the issue.
“It is a problem. Happily we’ve got a former employee who is working in Australia and has made himself available to ride the horse. We are working on the other details,” he added.
Balding is pleased to have last year’s St Leger runner-up Berkshire Rocco back in action in the Weatherbys Bloodstock Pro Persian Punch Conditions Stakes at Salisbury on Friday.
The four-year-old has not run since finishing second in the Amir Trophy at Doha in February. He should have run on Dubai World Cup night, but was a late withdrawal after suffering a setback.
Balding is using his comeback run as a stepping stone to the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot next month.
“I’m very pleased with him. He’s obviously had a while off. He’s working great,” he said.
“We are looking towards Champions Day subject to an encouraging run on Friday.”
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Spanish Mission made his stamina count to take the Group Two honours in the Matchbook Yorkshire Cup at York.
The five-year-old asserted in the closing stages to be a clear-cut winner over Santiago and Sir Ron Priestley, in the hands of William Buick.
Andrew Balding’s globe-trotter was having his third run of the year, after racing in Saudi Arabia and Dubai in the winter.
Buick had the 11-2 shot, winner of last year’s Doncaster Cup, at the back of the five-runner field as Wells Farhh Go made the running from Sir Ron Priestley.
There was little change in the order until in the straight when Wells Farhh Go weakened after being off the track for 587 days.
Sir Ron Priestley hit the front but could not put the race to bed and faded in the final furlong.
That left Spanish Mission to come home two and a three-quarter lengths clear of Santiago – with Sir Ron Priestley, the 6-5 favourite, only third.
Spanish Mission was cut to 16-1 from 33-1 for the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot with Coral, and 10-1 from 25-1 with Betfair and Paddy Power.
The winning trainer’s wife Anna Lisa Balding said: “We’re absolutely delighted – it’s wonderful for the owners and Andy who looks after him.
“They couldn’t go to Saudi, so it’s great they’re here today.”
She confirmed too that a move back up in trip from this mile and three-quarters will be Spanish Mission’s next assignment, at Royal Ascot.
“Ascot’s obviously the plan, the Gold Cup,” she said.
“William was very impressed with him – what a lovely horse to have on the yard.
“He’s in great form (after his winter travels). He loves it, he loves to get some air miles I’d say!
“Dubai just didn’t work – it was the second time he’d run a bad race in Dubai.
“He’s got some pace too, hasn’t he? We’re just so pleased.”
Trainer Mark Johnston said of Sir Ron Priestley: “He went to the front like he was cantering and had them all at it – and for whatever reason didn’t get home.
“We know he’s won over a mile and six (furlongs) before, so we know he stays – he stayed the trip as a three-year-old, never mind now.
“Why he should fail to get home today, I don’t know. There doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with him, but we’ll see.
“(Stablemate) Nayef Road (finished last of five) was also a bit out of character. For all it was maybe a bit sharp for him, it was still out of character to be under pressure so quickly.
“Maybe they’ve gone an awful lot faster than we all thought. It will be interesting to see how the time comes out.”
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Berkshire Rocco may be bound for the Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan following a fine effort on his first start for four months in Qatar.
Andrew Balding was delighted with the four-year-old’s run in the H H The Amir Trophy at Doha when beaten two and three-quarter lengths by Noor Al Hawa.
The Kingsclere trainer expects an even better performance next time from last year’s St Leger runner-up.
“He ran a smashing race. It was his first run for a while, and he’s entitled to come on for that,” said Balding.
“All being well, he might head towards Meydan for the Sheema Classic.
“He’s effective at a mile and a half and further, and is just a great horse to have in the yard.”
Stablemate Spanish Mission could also head to Dubai after finishing second in the Red Sea Turf Handicap in Riyadh, for which he earned £364,000.
“He ran with great credit and he too might end up going to Dubai for the Dubai Gold Cup,” said Balding.
The handler was pleased Bangkok managed to pick up excellent prize-money as well in the world’s richest race, the Saudi Cup – earning £291,000 for eighth place.
“He’s probably not quite as good as the others, which is obvious, but he won some really good prize-money and is back here and bouncing,” said Balding.
“There were great rewards up for grabs, and that was the main reason we ran. The rewards were there as long as he could finish in the first 10, and he did that and has done us proud.”
His next run will be much closer to home, in the All-Weather Championship Finals at Lingfield on April 2.
“He will more than likely head to Lingfield for Good Friday,” added Balding.
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Spanish Mission ran out a very impressive winner of the bet365 Doncaster Cup for Andrew Balding.
A smart performer for David Simcock last season, he has now won both his races since joining Balding.
Still only a four-year-old, the Noble Mission colt arguably had to prove his stamina over two and a quarter miles – and he clearly answered any lingering doubts.
Selino, who had finished behind Spanish Mission at Chester, kicked for home over two furlongs out, but William Buick had him in his sights on the 6-4 favourite.
On entering the final furlong Spanish Mission quickened impressively and powered away to win by three lengths.
Sir Mark Prescott’s Revolver, who was stepping up in class having won six handicaps on the bounce, briefly threatened to take a hand in the finish before his effort petered out and he was passed for third by The Grand Visir.
Balding said: “I thought it was an excellent performance – I’m delighted to have a horse of his calibre in the yard.
“He looks like he could be a Gold Cup contender next year, which is very exciting.”
Paddy Power cut Spanish Mission to 8-1 from 12-1 for the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot on October 17.
Balding added: “That is really the only race for him if he is going to run again this year, but the ground might have gone too soft for him by then, so we’ll see.
“I’m just delighted with his performance today and thrilled to have a horse like him in the yard.”
Buick said: “He was over-racing at stages, not the whole way, but just at stages. Two miles two is a long way, but he was never really doing too much.
“He was always going to come into the race easily – it was just whether he’d see it out, and he did see it out very well.
“He’s got that bit of class against these stayers, that turn of foot. That together with his stamina is a good combination.
“I’m sure all those races will be on his radar. Who knows – potentially next year, he might even make up into a Gold Cup horse.
“Connections will have a chat – and in that staying division, he’s going to be a lively contender.”
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Spanish Mission may be set for high-profile and long-distance adventures next year if he first proves up to the task in the bet365 Doncaster Cup on Town Moor.
The 2021 Ascot Gold Cup and Melbourne Cup perhaps sound ambitious, but the four-year-old will be taking a big step in that direction should he lift Friday’s historic two-and-a-quarter-mile Group Two contest.
Spanish Mission has some smart form on the board, including victory in the Bahrain Trophy at Newmarket last year and finishing second in the Henry II Stakes at Sandown in May, when trained by David Simcock.
He is now with Andrew Balding and got off the mark first time for the Kingsclere handler in a Listed race over an extended mile and three-quarters at Chester last month.
“What we wanted to do was to give him a freshener and give him his best chance to win and feel good – and it worked,” said Barry Irwin, founder and chief executive of Team Valor, who own the horse with Gary Barber.
“He won off David Simcock’s training, and he was pointing him at this race, so he deserves the credit for that even though he didn’t have the horse that day.
“Since then the horse has done well, according to Andrew. He phoned me on Saturday after he had worked the horse, (and) he was very enthusiastic and very happy.
“Andrew and I had a long conversation, and his idea was if the horse stays two and a quarter or two and a half miles, he could be an ideal horse for the Ascot Gold Cup next year.
“He does have a turn of foot, which most stayers don’t. He goes to the Doncaster Cup in good form. If he can do it, next year we know what to do. If not, we’ll go back to the drawing board.”
He added: “The long-term goal with this horse is the Melbourne Cup – not this year, but next year when he’s five, and the year after when he’s six and more mature.
“He was a light-bodied horse last year. This year he’s got better, and I think next year he’ll reach his maturity and we’ll find out if can do it.”
Among Spanish Mission’s rivals, Revolver has gone from strength to strength since moved up in trip and is unbeaten in six handicaps this season.
However, Sir Mark Prescott’s three-year-old is taking a big rise in class for a race that forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series.
“He’s a very tall, leggy, narrow horse, but athletic and keeps winning,” said the Newmarket trainer.
“He’s won over two miles and one at Pontefract, so we know he stays, and the big, galloping track at Doncaster suits him.
“It’s a question of whether he’s good enough. Other horses in there would have a bit more class and have done it time and time again.”
Prescott, 72 – who has been training at Heath House in Newmarket for 50 years – did not expect Revolver to prove such a potent force over long distances, or be so prolific.
“He’s by a sprinter (Slade Power), and when we started him we were thinking he would be a seven-furlong or mile horse – but he didn’t work particularly well,” he said.
“As he went up in distance he stayed and stayed, which you wouldn’t have expected. He works well now that he’s with the stayers. As long as you get it right in the end, as we have with him, then it’s OK, but we don’t always.”
Since 1995, 11 three-year-olds have contested the race – and Prescott has been responsible for six of them. His challengers have either won, been placed or run creditably.
He said: “I suppose we specialise in staying three-year-olds, but we also won it with Pallasator (in 2015), too, when he was a six-year-old. Revolver is a very nice horse.”
Red Verdon is a dual course winner, but has yet to run over this extreme distance.
However, he has run creditably over two miles in the past, including when second in the Group Two Henry II Stakes at Sandown in 2018.
His two wins from three starts this term both came over a mile and three-quarters.
The seven-year-old was not quite as effective on heavy ground when fourth to Telecaster over an extended mile and a half at Deauville on his latest start.
Trainer Ed Dunlop is happy to put a line through that performance.
“It was very deep ground, the last run, so probably it’s best to ignore that,” he said.
“The ground will be better at Doncaster. First time at this trip, but he’s run over two miles before.
“He seems well, and fingers crossed. It’s competitive, but he’s in good form and we’ll give it a go.”
The David O’Meara stable is represented by Eagles By Day – with Heather Main’s Island Brave, the James Fanshawe-trained Selino and The Grand Visir, for Ian Williams, completing the seven-strong field.
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