Andrew Balding’s 2000 Guineas winner Kameko impressed in a gallop at Kempton on Wednesday ahead of his attempt to join an elite list in the Investec Derby on Saturday week.
No horse has followed up at Epsom having won the Guineas since Aidan O’Brien’s Camelot in 2012, although only Dawn Approach (2013) and Saxon Warrior (2018) have even tackled the double.
While Kameko is a general second favourite for the blue riband, Balding is trying not to get carried away – having felt he held strong claims with Bangkok 12 months ago, only for him to disappoint.
“You’d like to think he’s my best chance of winning it, but we’ve had five runners in it in the past and five disappointments – five big disappointments,” said Balding.
“I’m more relaxed than I might have been. I don’t want to get myself too excited like I did last year, but obviously we’ve got a strong candidate – he’s a Guineas winner going to a Derby.
“We’ve been really pleased with him, he’s a pleasure to train, a real professional.”
Balding has followed a similar routine with Kameko to that which served him so well before Newmarket.
“He went to Kempton yesterday for a gallop, which we did before Newmarket 10 days prior, and it went well. We had the option of going to Epsom, they kindly offered, but I felt he needed a decent piece of work and I felt more comfortable doing that at a place we’d done it before,” he said.
“We played safe, went to Kempton and we’re perfectly happy with what he did.
“We were all thrilled. It was an easy piece for him, relatively speaking, he worked with the same lead horses he worked with before the Guineas – not Group horses by any stretch – but he pulled clear very nicely.
“In terms of pointing to his fitness levels, he had a really good blow, he scoped clean afterwards – and I couldn’t be happier.”
Balding reports Kameko is capable of lighting up the Kingsclere gallops more than any other he has ever trained.
He added: “We have a timing system for all fast work, and he’s got exceptional figures.
“He’s able to do sprinting fractions in his work without even being asked to do them. It just gives us scientific proof of what we are seeing with our eyes.
“We don’t put them on every time, but he’s done a couple of pieces where the data backs up what we saw at Newmarket.”
However, Balding admits while Kameko’s speed is not in doubt, his stamina will not be proven until the big day.
“Obviously there is no way of knowing (if he’ll stay the trip) until you try,” he said.
“The figures show he’s very talented. The whole point of the Guineas and the Derby is that one is a test of speed and the other a test of temperament, stamina and agility. We’ve passed the speed test, now we’ve to pass the other.
“My dad (Ian) was saying ‘why not gallop him over a mile and a half’ which is what they did in those days – Mill Reef did it between running in the Guineas and the Derby – but you can’t find it out at home, you’ve got to suck it and see.
“If he doesn’t stay, he doesn’t stay, and we’ll drop him back in trip, but he relaxes very well. Kitten’s Joy is deemed an influence of stamina in America, although obviously it’s a different style of racing. There are hints in his pedigree – Alderbrook is in the family, and he won a Champion Hurdle.
“It’s mixed messages in the pedigree, but the key thing for me is that he relaxes really well – which has got to give him a chance. It’s an extra half-mile, but he was hitting the line strongest of all in the Guineas.”
Assessing the opposition, Balding has huge respect for Ed Walker’s English King – who hit the headlines this week after Tom Marquand was jocked off in favour of Frankie Dettori.
Balding has softened that blow a little, offering the 22-year-old a first Derby ride on his second string Khalifa Sat instead.
He said: “English King was very impressive at Lingfield. Obviously with Frankie riding, he looks a worthy favourite – and the Lingfield Trial is a very good test. Whatever Aidan (O’Brien) sends will warrant respect as well as he has a strong team every year.
“We’re running another horse called Khalifa Sat, who won the Cocked Hat Stakes. He’s a horse we think an awful lot of – as long as the ground is fast, he’ll run. Tom rode him at Goodwood, and we’ve offered him the ride. I believe he’ll be riding him.
“Like any Derby, there’ll be 13 or 14 runners, and you wouldn’t fall over in amazement if any of them won.
“The only reason Khalifa Sat might beat Kameko is if he doesn’t stay. As talented as he (Khalifa Sat) is, Kameko has different gears to any horse I’ve ever trained.”
Kameko’s Guineas win was a second Classic for Balding, coming some 17 years after Casual Look won the Oaks. He has not lacked advice on how to win another, though.
“Winning the Guineas was very special, but the shame was being at the racecourse wasn’t as fulfilling as it could have been,” he said, referring to racing currently taking place behind closed doors.
“Winning the Guineas with Kameko meant more to me than when Casual Look won. That seems so long ago now, and I didn’t appreciate it enough at the time.
“I’m not short of advice! My uncle, William (Lord) Huntingdon lives over the road and he’s strong on advice; my dad loves giving it out, and so does my sister (Clare) – she hasn’t trained a Group winner but she loves giving it out.
“(Sons Jonno and Toby) have been over each and every scenario and told me what is going to happen, so even more advice – it’s fantastic!
“The thing about the Investec Derby is these horses only get one chance, some years the best horse doesn’t even make the race. All we can ask is for a good, clean race – and then whatever happens, happens.
“Anyone who holds a training licence – it sounds a cliche – but the Derby is the Holy Grail. It’s seen as the pinnacle of your career, and that is why it’s so important to everyone involved. It’s the ultimate test and the biggest prize of all.”