Racing: Balding sharpens his Stiletto: Kingsclere's sole two-year-old winner will carry the burden of expectation for his stable at Ascot on Saturday

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The Independent Online
A SINGLE fact will keep the winning trainer of Saturday's Royal Lodge Stakes as snug over the winter as a bear in a hibernation bolt-hole. For it was 12 months ago that Mister Baileys took Ascot's Group Two event before going on to victory in this year's 2,000 Guineas.

If there is one trainer in need of some warmth to sustain him in the frosty months this year, it is Ian Balding, who will be represented on Saturday by Stiletto Blade. The bay colt is in a club all of his own at Park House, because of the 19 juveniles Balding has sent out this season to contest 43 races, he is the only one to return home with a garland.

'The two-year-olds have all had problems of one sort or another,' the Kingsclere trainer said yesterday. 'But I wasn't surprised when Stiletto Blade won because he looked much the nicest of ours.'

Balding fears the prevailing soft ground will be against his colt, though he does not see the mile trip as a problem. 'I hope he'll stay in time,' he said. 'Dashing Blade (the colt's sire) got a mile and a half and I hope he will too.'

The fingers on Balding's other hand are crossed for Lochsong, whose reputation has been dulled by tame defeats at Newmarket and York in recent starts. The speedy mare was coughing last week, but has now recovered and is likely to have her next piece of serious work tomorrow.

The six-year-old is now likely to attempt to retain her crown in the Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp a week on Sunday, and it may be that her recent inactivity will be an advantage. Lochsong has misbehaved most when apparently fully primed for the job. 'She's on course for Paris all right,' Balding reported. 'She'll definitely be a bit short of work, but it might be a bit better that way.'

One absentee from the Royal Lodge will be Paul Cole's Alanar, who has an aversion to soft ground. The Whatcombe trainer still has much to look forward to though as Montjoy and Sri Pekan, two other talented juveniles, may be out again this term.

Montjoy has returned pleasingly from a recent trip to Longchamp, where he was overtaken only close home in the Prix de la Salamandre by Andre Fabre's Pennekamp. 'I thought he might win that day, but it was a bit of a French race and they seemed to swoop on him,' Cole said yesterday. 'But he ran really well and he might now go for the Racing Post Trophy.'

The hugely gifted Sri Pekan surged to the head of the 2,000 Guineas market with success in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster, which may have been his signing-off point for the campaign. 'He's 50-50 to run again this season, but in the back of my mind I think it might be a question of winning the Dewhurst or winning the Guineas,' Cole said. 'He's had a hard season and I'm leaning towards the Guineas, but the horse is in very good form.'

This last remark could be applied to much of the trainer's string, and the new wave coming through suggests next season may be as rewarding as that of 1991, when Generous and a battery of useful juveniles led Cole to the trainers' championship. 'There are a lot of good horses around, but I'm very pleased with the two- year-olds I've got this season,' he said.

Better pleased with the damp conditions at Ascot are the connections of soft- ground specialists Turtle Island, Mehthaaf and Bigstone, who meet in Saturday's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.

All three were backed yesterday with Ladbrokes. Turtle Island tumbled from 9-2 to 7-2, Mehthaaf was clipped to 6-1 from 7-1, while Bigstone is 6-1 from 8-1. Sayyedati, who would not relish the conditions, has not been ruled out by Clive Brittain although she is more likely to wait for the Breeders' Cup. In the Ascot Handicap, the former second-favourite, Misbelief, has defected in favour of a race today.