When Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha moved into racehorse ownership, he dreamed of succeeding on the biggest of stages – and Bangkok will bid to fulfil that vision in his memory in the Investec Derby.
The Leicester City owner tragically lost his life in a helicopter crash last October and the Andrew Balding-trained colt will try to cement the equine empire he hoped to create by taking the King Power Racing operation to the next level in Flat racing’s most sought-after prize.
Topping the fairytale Premier League title triumph of the Foxes during the 2015/16 season is close to an impossible task – but if Balding can secure victory with Bangkok for the man referred to as the “chairman”, it will be a moment to run it very close.
Balding said: “He was a great man, he had a dream and that was he would have horses to compete in the top races in Europe – everyone is committed to trying to carry the vision he had through.
“When we bought these horses, he was very much involved in the purchasing with Alastair Donald. He was then in total charge of naming them and the fact he chose this one to carry the name Bangkok probably speaks volumes for what he was anticipating from the horse.
“To have a horse capable of winning the Derby is one thing, but if it was to happen with Bangkok, it would be extra special. The plan is for the family to come on Derby day and I would love to give them a day to remember.”
Not only would victory for Bangkok give Balding great pleasure in realising the dream of his owner, it would at long last allow him to recall his own Derby triumph, having listened to the tale of his father Ian’s victory with the great Mill Reef in 1971 on countless occasions.
He said: “At Christmas time he is the only Derby-winning trainer sat at the table and it would be nice if he wasn’t!
“It has always been a difficult race to win and it is not getting any easier, I think he would be the first to admit that. It’s pretty tough to even get a horse with a chance in the Derby, as it is the race everyone wants to win.
“If everything goes well in the prelims and we can get a half-decent position in the first half of the race, I’m sure we will be there or thereabouts.
“It would put some pressure on my sister (television presenter Clare Balding) if we did win – she would have to take out a training licence as she wouldn’t want to be left out!”
Blaming himself for failing to get Bangkok to win at two, Balding has more than made up for that with his rising star unbeaten in two starts this year, including victory in the Sandown Classic Trial last time out and over subsequent Dante Stakes winner Telecaster at Doncaster.
He said: “In hindsight, I probably ran him back sooner than I should have done at Ascot last year, but I was desperate to give the chairman a winner at Ascot when he was there.
“It was probably a mistake and if we’d have waited, he would have probably won his maiden then gone on to a Group race after that.
“We’ve always thought a lot of him and his two runs this year suggest he is worthy of a place in the Derby. We were fully expecting him to win at Doncaster. I was quite surprised the runner-up got quite as close as he did, but that was Telecaster.
“We expected him to win at Sandown and I think the world expected him to win at Sandown. I thought he did it well, with a little bit up his sleeve. We have had a good preparation and are going there in good shape.”
It may not be the first time avid Southampton fan Balding has had a runner in the race, but he feels there is a distinct difference between Bangkok and those that have flown the flag for him in the past.
Balding said: “I think he has probably got less question marks about him over my previous runners in the race.
“Bonfire won the Dante, which is a leading trial, but we always had a reservation about the track for him and it was quite quick ground that day, but this horse would be, I’d like to think, a class above that.
“Elm Park was a good horse, but hindsight would tell us he didn’t stay so we were probably asking him an impossible task.
“On his home work, he is the best I’ve trained – he has got to put that together on the track, but in terms of raw ability he is up there with the best I’ve had of any age.
“I think this horse has most things you want for a Derby and I wouldn’t swap him, put it that way.”