Since its inauguration in 1960, only Prominent (1971 and 1972) and Chaumiere (1985 and 1986) have managed to win back-to-back renewals of the prestigious handicap.
Since striking gold on the Knavesmire 12 months ago, the King Power Racing-owned Pivoine has done himself proud in races like the Arlington Million and the Canadian International, but returns to York to defend his crown just 2lb higher in the weights.
Balding said: “Pivoine obviously won the race last year. It’s a very difficult race to win and to win it back-to-back is probably even tougher, but we’ll give it our best shot.”
The six-year-old, who is the mount of Rob Hornby, has not been seen in competitive action since finishing fourth on the all-weather at Chelmsford in February. “It has been the plan for a while, to come back here,” added Balding.
“I would have liked to have got another run into him as he is a horse who seems to improve with racing, but things haven’t been right for him and at least he had a run in February – it’s not like he’s been off the track for a year. He’s working well and he’s got a nice draw (stall four), so we’re hoping he’ll run well.”
The Kingsclere handler has a second string to his bow in Good Birthday, who was last seen finishing down the field in the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Yet, arguably, the race of the afternoon is the shortest and quickest – namely the John Smith’s City Walls Stakes in which Bryan Smart’s Alpha Delphini races for just the third time since winning the 2018 Nunthorpe. A race that deserves to be elevated in status to Group level, the favourites include the ever popular El Astronaute for Malton trainer John Quinn who saddled his 1,000th winner earlier this month.
The seven-year-old sprinter recorded his 13th win, a remarkable level of consistency, when winning his comeback race at Doncaster under jockey Jason Hart for owner Ross Harman.
“He looks like he’s in good form. He is coming off a win at Doncaster and will be hopeful,” Hart told The Yorkshire Post.
Asked about the horse’s durability, Hart went on: “I think it is the way he wears his heart on the sleeve every time. He never runs a bad race – those horses are few and far between.”
El Astronaute runs in the same colours as Safe Voyage who provided Quinn with his 1,000th success at Epsom on Derby day. “Everyone works hard and part of it is down to placing horses in the right races – John and his son Sean do that very well,” added Hart.
Racegoers will be allowed to attend the final day of the forthcoming Qatar Goodwood Festival after it was named as one of the Government’s pilot events to welcome crowds back to elite sporting events. Attendance will initially be offered to annual members and their guests.
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