Andrew Balding “couldn’t be happier” with Kameko as he prepares his Group One winner for the Qipco 2000 Guineas.
The Newmarket Classic is due to take centre stage in the planned resumption of racing next week following the coronavirus shutdown – and Balding hopes his Vertem Futurity Trophy hero can be one of those posing a danger to red-hot favourite Pinatubo.
The Kingsclere handler said: “I’m really pleased with him. Obviously he had a quiet period through the winter months and we got him back into faster work around Cheltenham time when lockdown happened.
“At the time we were still hoping the Guineas might be on the original date, so we had a period where we were cranking up the intensity of the work and then obviously when we realised that wasn’t the case, he was let down a little bit.”
Helping to boost confidence that heading straight to the Guineas out of necessity this year will not be a hindrance is the feeling the Kitten’s Joy colt gave big-race rider Oisin Murphy in a recent racecourse gallop.
“He had a gallop at Kempton last week and I couldn’t be happier with him at the moment. Oisin rode him in that and couldn’t have been happier with the way he went. He looks magnificent, he’s a lovely horse to have anything to do with and we’re all very excited,” said Balding ahead of a race that forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series.
“He was always a big-framed horse, he’s not the flashiest of horses in his routine exercise, but he’s always been the type that when you ask him a little bit more, he has improved for it. Kitten’s Joy seemed to thrive on racing – every time he had a run he got better and better and I think this horse is very similar.
“With the racecourse gallop he had the other day, I think we have got him about as ready as we can for this first start of the season. But only time will tell – when the adrenaline is pumping on raceday horses behave differently. On the work he is showing us at home he is as ready as he can be.
“It’s the same for everyone, if you were the only person who couldn’t have raced in this period then obviously you would be at a disadvantage, but everyone is in the same boat.”
An obvious question for a Group One winner over a mile as a juvenile is whether the Derby trip might be within reach – and an obvious answer to that for now is that the jury is out.
Balding said: “I think Newmarket will tell us plenty. He is a horse I have no doubt will stay a mile and a quarter, but whether he will stay further than that, we will only probably learn with the evidence of a run at Newmarket.
“I hope he would, but his target, or targets, would be debated after his run in the Guineas.”
With Kameko doing everything asked of him so far, Balding hopes the weather can play its part in keeping the sun shining.
He said: “It (soft ground) would be a concern. We worked him on soft ground, a mixture of good to soft and soft, the week before the (Vertem Futurity Trophy) was meant to be run at Doncaster and he handled it, but obviously when it turned heavy at Doncaster I was very relieved they postponed it and moved it to the all-weather.
“We’re going to have to try it at some stage and I would have thought unless it was desperate ground, which is unlikely, it won’t be the ground that will stop him running.”
Of Pinatubo – the highest-rated two-year-old since Celtic Swing in 1994 and higher even than Frankel – Balding said: “Obviously he is an outstanding horse and we have huge respect for him. He will be very tough to beat, I’m sure, but we will certainly give it our best shot.”
Murphy also has maximum respect for Charlie Appleby’s charge.
He said: “I think he deserved his rating last year, he beat everything impressively. I thought the day at the Curragh was just incredible and the clock backed it up as well.
“We have massive respect for him, we just hope that one horse has improved more than the other from two to three. It will be interesting, the likes of Threat, Military March, they’re quality animals, so it’s going to be as it should be – a competitive race, it is a Classic after all.”
And now the waiting is nearly over for racing to restart, Balding has every confidence in measures put in place to protect all those involved in the resumption.
He said: “There are all sorts of procedures in place and I’m sure it will be as safe an environment as they could possibly have. The staff are chomping at the bit to get going again.”