Racing: Long-range Shot for Balding

Click to follow
In their traditional uniform of trilby and old school tie, the massed ranks of Britain's Flat trainers do not immediately impress as perhaps the country's most successful collection of sporting professionals. Not for them the flamboyance of a football star or the chiselled physique of an Olympic athlete, and nor, for that matter, the lucrative television appearances and product endorsements which now seem to follow even fairly modest sporting achievements.

And yet, though our national football teams have won nothing for three decades, the cricketers are the softest touch on the planet and our athletes were reduced to hawking their kit on the streets of Atlanta, British-trained horses demand respect wherever they appear.

Throughout Europe in particular, we win dozens of races at the highest level, season after season. For reasons of timing, climate and track conditions, success at the Breeders' Cup has proved more elusive, but it might be argued that the very fact that those disadvantages have been overcome at all is a fine achievement in itself. The Japan Cup too has been claimed for Britain.

But never the Melbourne Cup, surely the greatest prize which still eludes our runners, although until Dermot Weld's ground-breaking victory with Vintage Crop three years ago, few trainers anywhere in the northern hemisphere believed that such a feat was even worth attempting.

If the Cup is due for export this year, Ireland once again seems the probable destination, thanks to Kevin Prendergast's Oscar Schindler, whose burden predates his third place in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

But in what is, after all, a handicap, both Peter Chapple-Hyam's Court Of Honour and, in particular, the Ian Balding-trained Grey Shot, must stand a decent outside chance of completing the most difficult mission of them all.

Certainly, Grey Shot is the sort of horse you want on your side in what is always an unforgiving contest. A brave and tenacious front-runner, few will forget the effort required of Double Trigger, probably the best stayer in Europe, to pass Balding's horse at Ascot back in May, or the grim determination with which he clung to the lead in the Goodwood Cup three months later.

Grey Shot left for Australia almost a month ago, while Balding arrived to supervise his final preparation last Sunday. "Initially he had a temperature and a bad blood count," the trainer said on Friday, "but he's very well now. I think he is happier now that he knows there are other horses about, and he did a good bit of work yesterday.

"In fact, all three of our horses are looking very well, but of course it's a long way to come and really we have no idea how they will run. I hope for the sake of the race that they run well, because it will encourage others to come, and I'd like to think mine will, but then I thought that about both my Breeders' Cup runners, Lochsong and Selkirk, and they both ran badly.''

The British approach to the Cup is the cause of much puzzlement to the natives, who believe that an ideal preparation includes an outing, usually in the highly competitive Mackinnon Stakes, just three days before the Melbourne Cup itself.

"The Aussies can't believe it at all, that we're going in without a run for three months," Balding said. "Of the 42 early acceptors in the race, 27 were down on Saturday to run, on very firm ground, but we're convinved that Grey Shot goes best when he is fresh.''

The Mackinnon highlighted the chances of Nothin' Leica Dane (7-1 with Ladbrokes) and Arctic Scent (16-1), who finished seventh and sixth respectively, but as far as the British layers are concerned, tomorrow's race is a one- horse book.

Oscar Schindler, generally thought to be carrying at least 6lb less than a fair burden, has been supported down to 2-1 from an opening quote of 20-1, and a series of glowing health reports from his Australian lodgings will ensure that he is roughly the same price with the local bookmakers. The colt is reported to have worked "beautifully" on Saturday in his final major gallop for the race. "It was so perfect, it's frightening," Prendergast, said.

While Pat Eddery has flown out to ride Grey Shot, Chapple-Hyam has booked the local rider Simon Marshall for Court Of Honour, runner-up to Moonax in a minor event at Haydock in September on his latest start.

Doriemus, last year's winner, is next in the list at 5-1, while other leading fancies include Saintly, recent winner of the Cox Plate, Australia's most valuable weight-for-age contest.

Balding feels that, if the journey has not unduly affected him, Oscar Schindler will be difficult to beat, though he also reports that Istidaad, who ran Pentire to a short-head in the 1995 Predominate Stakes when trained by Alec Stewart, is reckoned a live outsider by some shrewd Australian commentators.

Istidaad is an interesting 20-1 chance with William Hill, but for those watching the contest in the early hours of tomorrow morning, it will be difficult to support anything but the three-strong European challenge. And with the value about Oscar Schindler now a distant memory, it may be unwise to invest anything more negotiable than pride.