Balding believes Elm Park can have “big impact” in Derby

© 2012 Daily Sport Limited

Trainer Andrew Balding opened the doors to the historic Park House stables at Kingsclere yesterday for the annual Investec Derby Stable Visit to talk about his big hope Elm Park.

The yard has been the home of eight winners of the premier Classic, with John Porter sending out seven Derby winners in the 19th century and Andrew’s father Ian handling the outstanding Mill Reef, who triumphed at Epsom Downs in 1971.

Balding is hoping to run Elm Park in this year’s £1.325 million Investec Derby at Epsom Downs on Saturday, June 6, with the colt set to make his seasonal reappearance in the Group 2 Betfred Dante Stakes over 1m 2f furlongs at York tomorrow.

The three-year-old completed his preparation yesterday morning with some light work under regular work rider Steve Woolley.

Elm Park, a son of Balding’s triple Group One winner Phoenix Reach, was one of the leading juveniles of 2014, winning three of his four starts including the Group Two Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket and the Group One Racing Post Trophy. He is currently an 8/1 chance for the Investec Derby with Coral, official betting partner of the Investec Derby Festival.

He had been due to make his seasonal reappearance in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas over a mile at Newmarket on May 2 but missed the first Classic of the season due to unsuitably quick ground.

Balding said: “I am very happy with Elm Park. It has been a bit tricky as he was at his peak ready to run in the Guineas but the main thing is the horse has to run in a trial and get his season going.

“Whatever he does at York, I think he will come on for the run. If he performs up to our expectations at York, I think he can have a big impact on the Investec Derby.

“From the spring of his two-year-old season, he was going very well and when he had his first run as at Sandown in July, we thought he would run well. He just showed his inexperience that day, but when the penny dropped it took David Probert virtually to the railway fences to pull him up!

“After his debut, the rest of last season is history. He had to dig deep when he won the Royal Lodge at Newmarket, as he was still quite inexperienced and had to cope with quicker ground.

“The form seems to have been franked from most of the races he ran in last year and there is enough collateral form to point to Elm Park being a high-class horse.

“His trial at York will tell us more. If all of the horses at York run up to expectations, it is going to be a very competitive race.

“We won the Dante Stakes with Bonfire in 2012. Bonfire was Group One-placed as a two-year-old and had been due to run in the Dee Stakes at Chester but the ground came up too soft so we went to York instead. Bonfire struggled with the proximity of York and Epsom, but I don’t think it will be a problem with Elm Park as he has a very different constitution.

“Elm Park stayed a mile well last year and his sire Phoenix Reach stayed a mile and a half so certainly 10 furlongs should be well within his grasp. We won’t know about a mile and a half for Elm Park until he runs in the Derby, but on his pedigree he should be fine – the only slight doubt is on his dam’s side.

“The horse can be a bit deliberate when he changes his legs and can just take a bit of time to get organised. But with the class he has shown, he is capable of holding his position in a race. I think his biggest strength is his engine – his third gear is like most horses’ fifth gear.”

“His racecourse gallop at Newbury (April 17) was a bit disappointing at the time. He just took a bit of time to get organised that day and was a bit rusty. York will bring him on again.

“It was plan A to go for the Guineas so it is always a bit frustrating to have to go for Plan B, but the ground was just too fast and jarring for him at Newmarket. Being a Group One winner, the Guineas and the Dante were the only two options for him really without having to carry penalties. I don’t think Chester would have been ideal for him.

“There does not appear to have been anything overwhelming from the trials so far. There is very often a horse you notice that was staying on in the Guineas but there doesn’t seem to be anything from that race this year. It seems everyone is turning up at York.

“Elm Park is a rangier horse than his dad Phoenix Reach. But like him, he has no mental complications. His work rider Steve Woolley has been here for many years, going back to my father’s time here when he rode horses like Dashing Blade, Selkirk and Phoenix Reach. To have staff who provide such continuity is just invaluable.

“We declared on good ground for York and while the rain that was forecast doesn’t look set to arrive now, I’d be amazed if they allowed it to get rattling fast.

“And of course it is good, safe ground at Epsom which will suit him.”

Elm Park is set to face seven rivals in the Betfred Dante Stakes, when he will be partnered by Andrea Atzeni.

His opponents include Jack Hobbs (John Gosden/Frankie Dettori), the current 4/1 favourite with Coral for the Investec Derby, who entered the reckoning for Epsom Downs when storming to a 10-length victory at Sandown Park on April 24. Gosden is also responsible for the unbeaten Golden Horn (William Buick), triumphant in the Listed Feilden Stakes at Newmarket on April 15.

There are two representatives from Ireland’s champion trainer Aidan O’Brien – John F Kennedy (Ryan Moore) and Ol’ Man River (Joseph O’Brien). John F Kennedy landed a Group Three contest in 2014 and looked a horse of huge potential but needs to bounce back from a disappointing return in the Listed Ballysax Stakes last month, while similarly Ol’ Man River collected the Group Two Beresford Stakes as a two-year-old but was last when returning to action in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas.



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