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Youth Spirit’s Derby trail evokes landmark memories of Mill Reef

It is 50 years since Mill Reef provided Kingsclere with its most famous moment by winning the Derby for Ian Balding – and there will be no more popular winner should his son Andrew repeat the trick with Youth Spirit next month.

Youth Spirit is the son of a Derby winner in Camelot, and Balding has always rated him highly.

His Chester Vase victor was a fine third to Battleground in the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood last year before an injury kept him off the track for the rest of the season.

Youth Spirit returned over nine furlongs in the Feilden Stakes at Newmarket – where he was fourth to Highland Avenue – and relished the step up to the Derby distance of a mile and a half under Tom Marquand on the Roodee, beating Aidan O’Brien’s Sandhurst by a length and three-quarters.

He is subsequently a general 25-1 chance for the Cazoo-sponsored blue riband Classic – but given Khalifa Sat finished second at 50-1 last year for the same connections, the price should certainly not put anyone off.

“He’s always been a horse we’ve rated very highly – the question mark was whether he stayed or not,” said Balding.

“There is stamina in the sire’s side, obviously, but there is plenty of speed on the dam’s side. He saw the trip out really well, and I’m thrilled.

“I knew he’d improve a good bit from Newmarket, because he’d been off the track a long while before running there, and everything happened a bit quick for him.

“He’s obviously come on for it, and I just thought he did everything really nicely today.

“Comparisons are bound to be drawn between him and Khalifa Sat. But Youth Spirit has much more speed – Khalifa Sat was a strong stayer at the trip – so I’m delighted the owner (Ahmad Al Shaikh) has another good one.

“The plan, as long as everything goes all right between now and then, is to head for Epsom.”

When told it would be the 50th anniversary of Mill Reef’s finest hour, Balding seemed surprised.

Geoff Lewis and Mill Reef return victorious at Epsom
Geoff Lewis and Mill Reef return victorious at Epsom (PA Archive)

“Is that right?!” he asked. “Well I obviously can’t compare the two because I wasn’t around then – and in any case, he’s (Youth Spirit) a long way from ticking the boxes that he had, but he could have a live chance in the Derby.”

Khalifa Sat turned up at Epsom relatively unconsidered last year, despite having won a trial at Goodwood.

Marquand was due to ride the Derby favourite English King before losing the mount to a certain Frankie Dettori – and then going close on a big outsider.

Tom Marquand has enjoyed a great spell since returning from Australia
Tom Marquand has enjoyed a great spell since returning from Australia (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“It’s great for Ahmad Al Shaikh to have another one for the Derby, because last year that was a fair story with Khalifa Sat finishing second,” said Marquand.

“Hopefully they can go one bette.

“Khalifa Sat surprised me in the Derby, because he looked more a staying type, whereas this lad is the other way around – 12 furlongs is as far as he’ll want.

“They have different profiles. But this lad is really game and genuine, and I’m sure we’ll have a go.

“This will have been a real good experience to have been around here, because it is pretty different compared to everywhere else, and it should stand him in good stead for Epsom.”

Youth Spirit enters Derby reckoning with Chester Vase victory

Andrew Balding’s Youth Spirit emerged as a Derby contender in causing a minor upset with a clear-cut victory in the Chester Vase.

Blue Riband Trial winner Wirko was the 6-4 favourite to cement his Epsom claims for Charlie Appleby, while Law Of The Sea – already a dual winner this year – also carried the Godolphin colours for John and Thady Gosden.

Aidan O’Brien, who had saddled seven of the last nine winners of the Group Three contest, was represented by Craven Stakes sixth Sandhurst – but it was Youth Spirit (15-2) who stole the show.

Wirko cut out much of the running under William Buick, but was a spent force before the home turn, at which stage Fancy Man looked the most likely winner when sweeping to the front.

However, while his effort was ultimately short lived, Youth Spirit – fourth in the Feilden Stakes at Newmarket three weeks ago – finished with gusto under Tom Marquand to prevail by a length and three-quarters.

Sandhurst was one of the first off the bridle, but boxed on well to beat Fancy Man to the runner-up spot.

Bookmakers went 25-1 about Youth Spirit’s chance in the premier Classic, and Marquand – sporting the colours of last year’s Derby runner-up Khalifa Sat – said: “To be honest he was a bit behind the bridle, this was my first time riding him and it looked like he did that over nine furlongs at Newmarket.

“That must just be his run style because when I sat into him and gave him a proper squeeze coming to the three he was all there for me.

“The one question he had to answer was the trip, but you’d have to say he hit the line extremely well. It was a muddly race, but he’ll stay in an honest-run race as well.

“Chester is a funny old place and if you swing out your race can be over, but I followed William and I knew he’d take me into the guts of the race. He was really tough, stuck his head out and was there for me.”

He added: “It’s great for Ahmad Al Shaikh to have another one for the Derby because last year that was a fair story with Khalifa Sat finishing second. Hopefully they can go one better.

“Khalifa Sat surprised me in the Derby as he looked more a staying type, whereas this lad is the other way around – 12 furlongs is as far as he’ll want.”

Tom Marquand after winning the Chester Vase
Tom Marquand after winning the Chester Vase (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Balding was represented by his wife, Anna Lisa, who said: “Andrew has always thought a lot of him and today has shown what we wanted to find out.

“I’m sure the owner will be looking forward to a runner in the Derby so I’d be amazed if he didn’t show up at Epsom.

“Somebody made me aware the other day that it is 50 years since Mill Reef won the Derby for Kingsclere, which is fantastic, but it will be a little bit quieter this year.

“When Tom got on him he said ‘a Camelot round here on soft ground, he’ll love it’ and he was right. He was a massive price, I couldn’t believe it.

“Andrew’s record in the Derby isn’t great, but he was second and fourth last year.”