Classic success, and early Classic success, is not a phenomenon at the Berkshire yard of Kingsclere, it is a rite of passage. Ian Balding had only just found out where all the rooms where when he saddled Mill Reef to win the 1971 Derby. Now his son, Andrew, promises to go one better and win two of the premier events in his first season.
The Oaks is already in the bag, courtesy of Casual Look, and now the St Leger on Saturday week looms brightly, with Phoenix Reach among the more promising combatants. His mere presence in the Classic victory will be a victory of sorts.
Phoenix Reach was a horse of considerable capacity after just a single juvenile debut outing, a head second at Salisbury to the subsequent Derby fourth Norse Dancer. After that, though, he was hardly a racehorse at all after hideously splitting a pastern on the gallops.
A prolonged period in the dry dock means that Phoenix Reach will be the least experienced runner in the oldest Classic. Yet he will not be the least qualified. Following his success in a Newbury maiden last month, Balding's colt followed up in the traditional trial of Goodwood's Gordon Stakes. Now it is time for the big one.
"He's missed the bulk of his two-year-old career through injury and he's still showing signs of greenness," the trainer said yesterday. "The Leger or not he's a tremendous prospect.
"He's a very nice horse and he's probably still improving. He came out of the race good, but he hasn't done any major work since Goodwood. I was just really pleased with the way he did it because the track wouldn't have suited him."
Phoenix Reach's success at the foot of Trundle Hill was achieved in the hands of Darryll Holland. The partnership endured a scrum of a run, colliding with both High Accolade and Hawk Flyer, both of whom re-enter the fray on Town Moor.
"It was a very rough race and mine was almost on the floor," Holland said yesterday. "He fought off Hawk Flyer and then he fought off High Accolade. I know it was only a short-head , but High Accolade came at him quickly and didn't really give him time to respond. It's 5lb [the weight High Accolade conceded] difference between them now but that's certainly within our compass.
"I'm not convinced High Accolade has progressed since then, and I'm not worried about the 5lb because my horse has got low mileage on the clock. He's going into that race relatively fresh and lightly raced."
Neither is Holland disturbed by his mount's relative callowness. "Experience only really counts against you in big handicaps or races over a shorter distance," Holland added. "This horse travels very well in his races and I'll have plenty of time to get him organised in what won't be a hustle and bustle race with 20 odd runners. His class should get him through."
High Accolade himself must bounce back from a disastrous effort in the Leger's other principal audition, York's Great Voltigeur Stakes. Marcus Tregoning's colt performed at Goodwood in a visor and then on the Knavesmire in blinkers. Now a Gertrude Shilling sense of care is being taken over his headwear.
"He didn't really have a race at York," Tregoning said yesterday. "He'd worked well in the blinkers at home, but he didn't settle at all in the Voltigeur and ran up the back of a couple of horses. He might run in the Leger without either of the gadgets."
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