Racing: Dream for Balanchine: Dettori claims his first English Classic triumph as filly answers the doubts over stamina

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The Independent Online
BALANCHINE made history when she won the Oaks here yesterday, becoming the first horse trained in the United Arab Emirates to win a Classic. The filly, who beat Wind In Her Hair and Hawajiss, has been stabled in England for the past five weeks but spent her winter in the sunshine of Dubai.

There was little warmth for her at Epsom yesterday, where driving rain turned the going to soft. The race proved to be a slog up the straight, where Balanchine, a big, handsome daughter of Storm Bird, laid doubts about her stamina to rest in gutsy style.

Lanfranco Dettori, for whom she was a first English Classic winner, always had her handy as Fragrant Belle took the 10 runners along, and let her slip into the lead half-way down the hill. In the straight, all the fillies came over in search of better ground on the stands side, and Walter Swinburn, on Hawajiss, started the drive for home.

But Balanchine was not to be denied, and stuck with her. In the last two furlongs Hawajiss had no more to give, and the threat to Balanchine came from Wind In Her Hair, who had made steady progress on the outside.

She ran on bravely, but could never quite reach the leader, and in the last half-

furlong Balanchine stayed on, and had two-and-a-half lengths to spare at the line. Spot Prize rallied well to claim fourth place in front of the never-dangerous Bonash. The favourite Bulaxie trailed in seventh.

Balanchine was the eighth winner of the Oaks owned by the Maktoum brothers in the past 10 years. She runs for Maktoum Al Maktoum and Godolphin Racing, the Dubai arm of Sheikh Mohammed's racing operation, and was part of a pounds 2 million package bought by the Sheikh from Robert Sangster last autumn.

She gloriously justified the Sheikh's pioneering policy of wintering his best equine athletes in the sun. She is trained there, at Alquoz Stables, by Hilal Ibrahim, and since arriving in Britain four days before the 1,000 Guineas, in which she was a close second, has been under the care of Jeremy Noseda in Newmarket.

Sheikh Mohammed, closely involved in Balanchine's preparation, said that yesterday's win had given him more pleasure than any of his previous Oaks winners, adding: 'This experiment has obviously worked. We will now have to think about campaigning horses from Dubai all over the world.'

The extrovert Dettori, beaten a short-head on Balanchine in the 1,000 Guineas and the same distance on Grand Lodge in the 2,000, waved in delight as he crossed the line. He said: 'This makes up for those two races. I decided to come up the stands side because I won the previous race from there, and she kept on giving me more and more. I wondered about her staying, but her lad Ray Carter had no doubts.

'This win was for my parents, who had to endure the agony of those narrow Newmarket defeats, and the wave I gave after the winning post was for them. And wherever they decide to run Balanchine next - perhaps in the Irish Derby against the colts - I'll be there. She's a smasher,' Dettori added.

The time of the race, two minutes 40.37 seconds, was some six seconds slower than Wednesday's fast-ground Derby. The result, with the winner at 6-1 and the two best-backed fillies, Bulaxie and Bonash, out of the frame, was a good one for the bookmakers after the favoured Erhaab's Derby victory.

Willie Carson, who had ridden Erhaab, had no excuses for Bulaxie. He said: 'She pulled hard, as she always does. She just refused to settle, and the writing was on the wall a long way from home.'

(Photograph omitted)