Bonfire set to ignite Epsom for Balding dynasty
That is how much this colt, and the Derby, means to her – and her family. The horse is trained by the broadcaster’s brother Andrew – and Bonfire’s victory would equal the success that their father Ian enjoyed at Epsom 41 years ago with Mill Reef.
Balding, fronting the BBC’s coverage of the Derby for the last time before coverage of the iconic race switches to Channel Four, struggled to control her emotions when her brother saddled Casual Look to win the Oaks in 2003.
When she was later questioned about her tears at a meeting of Sandringham Women’s Institute, Balding was shocked to discover that her inquisitor was none other than the Queen who will be on hand today to present the trophy to the winning connections.
It was indicative of the Queen’s sense of fun, and occasional mischief, when it comes to equine matters – and a by-product of her long association with Balding senior who was a highly-respected Royal trainer before passing on the reins of his famous Kingsclere stables near Newbury to his son.
And despite Bonfire having a chequered preparation and missing two intended targets before galloping to victory last month in York’s Dante Stakes under big-race jockey Jimmy Fortune, connections are confident – despite the presence of Camelot in the line-up today.
“I was delighted with Bonfire at York – he did everything we could have asked and he seems to have come out of the race very well,” said Balding as he anticipates his first Derby runners.
“We had a big meeting at the beginning of the year with the owners, Highclere Thoroughbred Racing, and sat down to talk about the best way to progress to June.
“Unfortunately, he had a dirty scope when we first hoped to run at the Craven meeting and the horse was getting bored and needed some stimulation.
“Carolyn Warren came up with the suggestion of sending him to Dan Jocelyn, a very accomplished event rider, who lives near us. We sent him there for a couple of sessions just to break up the routine.
“Camelot is a clearly a formidable opponent. He looked very good at Newmarket and he looked a bit special at Doncaster last year.
“He’s obviously going to be very tough to beat, but we’ll certainly give it a good go. For everyone who trains racehorses, this is the race.”
Balding also saddles 100-1 outsider Minimise Risk, who was fifth behind fellow Derby runner Mickdaam in the Chester Vase.
Hayley Turner becomes the first female jockey since North Yorkshire’s Alex Greaves to have a Derby runner when she partners the outsider Cavaleiro who was third at Lingfield last month.
She will be hoping to do better than Greaves who is married to trainer Dandy Nicholls. She finished last on Portuguese Lil in 1996.