Racing: Hidden treasured

Sue Montgomery talks to Ian Balding, the trainer who has bred a classic hope
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The Independent Online
There was more than quickening excitement in Ian Balding's voice at Newmarket last week as he outlined his hopes for the Free Handicap winner Hidden Meadow. There was pride, too, but not just the natural headmasterly feelings of a man who has just seen one of his charges win an England cap.

For Balding not only trains Hidden Meadow, but also bred him. Three years ago today he celebrated the colt's birth and has seen him grow from a spindly legged foal to the infinitely promising young athlete whose sparkling tour de force down seven furlongs of the Rowley Mile on Wednesday sent him rocketing into 2,000 Guineas contention. Here was a father's pride.

Balding trained both Hidden Meadow's dam, Spurned, and his sire Selkirk. And, for good measure, Spurned's parents Robellino and Refill, and Refill's sire, the legendary Mill Reef. If anyone knows anything about the family's values, he does.

Spurned, winner of just one race, was the least talented of the bunch. "She's a lovely mare, very classy looking, with a beautiful head," said Balding, "but was no great shakes. I always got the slight impression that she never quite did her best. But the ones that save a little bit for themselves often make good broodmares."

Balding picked out both Refill, four times a winner, and Robellino, one of the best two-year- olds of his generation, as yearlings. He recalled: "Refill had a lovely temperament, and Robellino has given some of his strength. And Mill Reef, of course, was just perfect."

Spurned is one of half-a-dozen mares owned by Balding and his wife Emma and kept in the stud paddocks next to the family's stables at Kingsclere in Berkshire. Hidden Meadow is her third foal, preceded by the useful sprinter Overbrook and the sweet but talent-free Jona Holley. Coming through the pipeline are Hidden Meadow's well-regarded two-year-old brother Scorned, a yearling colt by Dashing Blade and this year's foal, a colt by Fairy King.

Hidden Meadow is from the first crop of his sire Selkirk, an exceptional performer, but one whose early career was hindered by a problem whose discomfort can perhaps only fully be appreciated by half this column's readership. A trapped testicle prevented him showing the full rein of his talent until he was four, when he became Europe's champion miler.

Selkirk raced to his six wins in the white-and-green colours of Balding's good friend and long-time patron George Strawbridge, who now owns Hidden Meadow, a tall, imposing individual and something of a chip off the old block. "The Selkirks tend to be a little nervy, and Hidden Meadow was quite a difficult boy when he first came into training. But he has grown up over the winter, physically and mentally. He must have put on 30 kilos; he weighs more than half a ton now, and is a magnificent looking horse," Balding said.

Like all breeders, Balding and his wife have leant on paddock rails and gazed and dreamed, and Hidden Meadow has put them in line for a rare achievement. Only 10 people in racing history have previously bred and trained a Classic winner, and only one of those of the 2,000 Guineas. "This horse has given us, and everyone at the stud, immense pleasure, "he said. "He's far and away the best one we've bred. It's just very, very exciting."