Reports18 May 2023

'I would have thought he brings as strong a form as any into the race' - Dante winner The Foxes books Derby spot

The Foxes (starred cap): won the Dante Stakes at York
The Foxes (starred cap): won the Dante Stakes at YorkCredit: Edward Whitaker

The trainer's team has been relegated and the owner's side looks poised to follow them down but their horse is firmly on the up and heading to Epsom.

Who wants to think about football when hopes that you have a serious Betfred Derby contender on your hands were proved joyously right with success in the richest trial of all?

The Foxes is named after Leicester City but as they sit precariously in the Premier League dropzone owners King Power and Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha have potential Classic glory to look forward to.

And Andrew Balding, whose beloved Southampton are already down, has already had Chaldean land the 2,000 Guineas this spring and could become the first trainer this century other than Aidan O'Brien to win the first two colts' Classics in the same season with different horses.

Their three-year-old, a winner of the Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket last season, is a best-priced 12-1 for Epsom where he will bid to avenge three-quarters brother Bangkok, who finished only 12th when well fancied in 2019.

He goes there on the back of success by a neck under Oisin Murphy in the 1m2½f Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes at York, holding on well from White Birch despite edging right in the final furlong.

Oisin Murphy and Andrew Balding with connections after The Foxes win in the Dante
Oisin Murphy and Andrew Balding with connections after The Foxes win in the DanteCredit: Edward Whitaker

And Balding said: "He meandered across the course a little bit but he was the best horse in the race. We're thrilled, it's just what we wanted to see, to win the race and hopefully go on to better things.  

"We always had a doubt whether he would stay a mile and a half but I think on today's evidence an extra couple of furlongs won't go amiss. He looks a likely candidate.

"We went to Epsom with his brother with big hopes and it didn't work out but I'd like to think this horse is possibly a little better."

Desert Crown went on to take the Derby after winning the Dante and Balding reckons The Foxes gives him his best chance of landing a race in which he has had Hoo Ya Mal and Khalifa Sat finish second in the last three years.

"He didn't win like last year's winner did but I think it was quite a deep Dante," he said. "I would have thought he brings as strong a form as any into the race.

"We've had a couple of seconds and Bonfire won the Dante and went to the Derby as second favourite but didn't run at all well. But this horse has got a very good brain on him, which is important.

"He relaxes very well, which is absolutely crucial, both in the preliminaries and in the race itself. To give yourself a chance of staying you've got to settle and he does that well. He's got a touch of class, which you need, and he's a very well-balanced horse."

Murphy is full of hope The Foxes will see out the trip at Epsom, unlike his previous Dante winners.

"I've won this race on Roaring Lion and Telecaster and they were obviously very good ten-furlong horses," he said. "This fellow, we're not guaranteed that he'll stay but he gives himself every chance because he's sleepy and that's all you want.

"He was super-relaxed. This occasion can make them hot and a bit lit up but he was really professional. In the race I just hoped I didn't get there too soon."

As well as the 2,000 Guineas, Balding has also won the Oaks, July Cup and Dewhurst among many Group 1 triumphs since taking over the licence from his father Ian in 2003.

Balding snr triumphed with Mill Reef at Epsom in 1971 and, despite top-level success on three different continents, his son said of the Derby: "I don't think I'm alone in thinking it's the most important race in the calendar for a British trainer."

But there are two other important victories that the trainer hopes Leicester can secure for Srivaddhanaprabha before June 3.

"They've got two more games left, let's hope they can get what they need out of that, take the pressure off and he can go to Derby day and enjoy it," Balding said.

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David CarrReporter
Published on 18 May 2023Last updated 19:06, 18 May 2023