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.
“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.
“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.”