Blonde Me’s Canadian Adventure

Crazy names

What’s in a name? We’ve had the bizarrely named Horsey McHorseface, Maythehorsebewithu and Ha Ha Ha, all of which can be particularly troublesome for commentators to call come race day, while the general racing public will be supplied with brief humorous moments upon casting scrutinising eyes at their racecards. But what drives someone to invest so much money on a thoroughbred only to label it with an embarrassingly poor name is beyond me. Thankfully, there seem to be more good names than bad in the world of thoroughbred horse racing.

Exceeding expectations

But what of Blonde Me, good or bad? Who cares, right? She’s a very special mare either way.

The six-year-old has been the star performer for the Andrew Balding stable this season. Her impressive campaign started in May, a full-of-running victory in the Group Two Middleton Stakes at York, beating John Gosden’s The Black Princess by 1 & 1/4 lengths on the Knavesmire. Next came a trip to Glorious Goodwood and the Group One Nassau Stakes. The daughter of Tamayuz was the unfancied 16/1 outsider of the field, and despite this, she still managed to finish a valiant second behind Aiden O’Brien’s star filly Winter—who had racked-up three Group Ones before that Nassau run.

Disappointment (and relief) in France

Andrew Balding then set Blonde Me the task of tackling the Group One Prix Vermeille in Chantilly. However, things didn’t go to plan in France, five furlongs out she stumbled badly, dropping to the rear before being significantly eased by Oisin Murphy, eventually trailing the field home in last place some 90 lengths off the winner, Bateel. Clearly, this was not a true reading of her abilities, but merely a race to forget. And more importantly she was unscathed, making the trip back across the channel returning safely home to Park House Stables in Berkshire.

Canadian beauty 

Next up, Woodbine, Canada—the Grade One Fillies & Mares Turf was the target.

As the bell rang the seven runners burst from their gates, jockey Oisin Murphy quickly switching Blonde Me off settling her nicely towards the rear. She galloped majestically down the back-straight, perspiring an ever-willing attitude, enthused in her own enjoyment. Only on the entrance to the home bend did Murphy ask the Andrew Balding favourite for a little more effort and she seemed to grab at the turf more ferociously which propelled her onward—weaving her way through the field. Once in the home-straight Murphy tried to angle the six-year-old out, however, for the briefest of moments she wanted to duck back in behind the USA mare Kitten’s Roar; Murphy had to reassert her focus, and in the blink of an eye she responded. Now, with the winning post in sight, the final phase of her task could commence. Blonde Me was brave, drawing level and dusting shoulders with Kitten’s Roar, looking the competition directly in the eye before asserting inside the final furlong crossing the line one length ahead of her American rival. And by doing so securing the biggest win of her career.

Blonde Me may face one finally assignment before her well-earned retirement, a trip to Hong Kong has been rumoured.



Rain, fjords and a difficult decision

Row upon row of whitewashed wooden houses. Long, straight, narrow streets—all of which look just about the same. Metallic grey overcast skies, leaking rain, in ever-constant motion. Navy blue seas, an open expanse fuelling fresh salted wind. Fjords on the horizon, a mesmerising mystic beauty.

Stavanger is pure, but also wet, cold and lonely. Yet for me, despite this, it felt like my second home, like I had lived there before. I had longed for the opportunity to sample life in these Nordic lands ever since I was a young boy upon discovering it was the birthplace of my great grandfather, this igniting my initial interest. While my Mum always said it would happen, someday—and she was right.

My adventure was cut short however, after finding out my English qualifications weren’t recognised by Norwegian Universities. So, my search widened to other European countries, to universities that would give me a chance, and then, finally, the UK. Shortly after that, I was offered a place in Buckingham, and so the decision was made to return to the small island for the duration of my studies (two years) but indefinitely? I’m not so sure…

I spent eight months in south-west Norway’s ‘gateway to the fjords’, I was out walking or running pretty much every day, taking advantage of the beautiful environment on my doorstep. While I made a living teaching English­—freelance—and working in a local restaurant, each providing so many great experiences, while also creating memories that will last me a lifetime.

The tale of the Arctic Fox

Wading through fields of white, cold and alone, I stumble into an arctic fox. At first he is not so friendly, but over time I get to know him, learn to love him, his adventurous nature and even his obscure little quirks. Then one night, a ferocious blizzard rolls in, just for a second I lose sight of his fuzzy little snout and glowing beady eyes – he is gone, maybe forever. In the morning, the sun still rises, it’s calm and quiet, just flat open fields of whiteness again. I start wading, today, I hope to meet a fluffy white polar bear and share a beer, and just maybe, the arctic fox will be with him.


Luck, pucks and more coffee

What was it Christopher Isherwood once wrote ‘Life is not so bad if you have plenty of luck and a good physique…’ — I tend to be rather fond of those sentiments.

The past two weeks have involved many early morning runs, most through some of Buckinghamshire’s beautiful countryside surroundings; I have run through fields of green, along the banks of the River Ouse, and even through an enchanted forest (pictures attached). The thing with running I tend to find, is a routine helps enormously, it’s certainly what helps you stay motivated to run regularly — that is the good physique part covered anyway, but what of the luck?


Do you make your own luck or does luck find you? Being in a particular place at a particular time, all has intertwined connections with various degrees of luck — a philosophical point of view, maybe, but an interesting interpretation nonetheless.

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This week — apart from the fitness regime — has consisted of: starting a new job (and quiting on the same day), getting the brief for my new media role with MK Lightening, and resolving some accommodation issues. It has been busy and tiring, but I am at least in a better, more comfortable place for my studies going forward.


I am also trying to find the time to finish the Christopher Isherwood novel Lions and Shadows, it is difficult to find any extra reading time whilst studying, but I am at least making progress. While the coffee is still prevalent too of course — currently I am drinking an Ethiopian fair trade blend.



New beginnings, outlooks and coffee

Ok, so I’ve threatened to do another small journal type post for a long time now, so here it goes…

My first few weeks have consisted of meeting new people, reading, lectures, tutorials and copious amounts of COFFEE!


I travelled down from Wirral in North West England to my new home with much excitement and equal amounts of trepidation. However, those feelings dispersed fairly quickly and eased further once I had gained more familiarity with my new surroundings.

The University is located in the scenic market town of Buckingham in the heart of the English countryside, it’s not comparable in any way to Stavanger or Tbilisi, it is something altogether different — an unassuming place nestled in its own serenity. I am thrilled with its proximity to London, I can travel to the centre of the capital in just over one hour, while Oxford, Cambridge, Stratford-upon-Avon are all on my to do list.

So far, things are good. Life is interesting again. I’m writing more frequently, learning with each passing day, and observing life/people with a more creative understanding — a crucial characteristic for any writer.



Will it be a blonde Eclipse at Sandown 

Blonde Me got up late on to beat John Gosden’s well-bred favourite The Black Princess in the Middleton at York, and in the process added another impressive group race victory to her form — that was her latest outing in May. The daughter of Tamayuz so rarely runs a bad race and even with these below par efforts usually the ground has not been in her favour. I’m of the opinion she isn’t suited by really soft (almost heavy) conditions, so you can draw a line through those efforts. She is a Mare who gives and gives in her races, and right now she seems to be in the form of her life. And at five-years-old, this coming Saturday at Sandown she will face the biggest test of her credentials so far — the group one Coral Eclise.

In a race likely to contain: Jack Hobbs, Cliffs Of Moher, Barney Roy and Eminent, it clearly wont be a walk in the park for Andrew Balding’s talented mare — but can Blonde Me compete with these elite thoroughbreds at the Surrey venue?

Previously, she has performed impressively at Sandown, with form figures from three runs reading: first, second and second. While the trip should be fine too, she has only raced beyond one mile on four occasions, the negative slant on that of course is she has only won one of those four races. However, I like to see things from a positive perspective because in my eyes she finishes her races so well, but one mile two furlongs is likely her optimum racing distance. The ground shouldn’t be an issue either — currently good at Sandown — she has the flexibility in a number of underfoot conditions, however, she wouldn’t want it too fast or really soft.

And despite so many positives Blonde Me will be a big price at Sandown, although I’m not a betting man or self proclaimed ‘tipster’ I write for the love of horses, the sport itself, and because of my passion for writing; I will be watching on Saturday, with hope and trepidation, and when the clock ticks 3.35 and Blonde Me bursts from the starting stalls, she will have certainly earned the right to be racing side by side this great generation of three-year-olds who make up part of this years Eclipse.

Why you can count on Count Octave

Royal Ascot is in full swing, however, unfortunately we have not seen as many Andrew Balding runners as we might have expected thus far. The Park House Stables team have been forced to withdraw a number of entries in the run up and during the week itself. The high temperatures across the country leading to the quickening ground that made the decisions to take out high class performers like Horseplay and Here Comes When rudimentary ones – while they will have other races to target beyond Ascot. Intriguingly, one runner who does remain is the talented Count Octave.

The three-year-old by Frankel is entered in the Queen’s Vase today, where Oisin Murphy will take the ride. Owned by Qatar racing, the colt has made a promising start to his racing career, from a workmanlike debut run at Goodwood last Autumn, to an impressive first win in March at Wolverhampton on the all-weather; that day he beat the useful looking Utopian Dream, the John Gosden trained three-year-old went on to win next time out.

In addition Count Octave’s form became even more interesting with his last appearance, at Chester. His run in the group 3 Chester Vase was most notable for two reasons:

Firstly, looking at the form of that race, Venice Beach won, however, did not run up to form next time out in the Derby – finishing a dissapointing 12th at Epsom, he clearly didn’t give his running that day. Therefore the most interesting aspect to take form the Chester Vase form is the colt who finished second: Wings Of Eagles, who of course went on to win the Derby!

Secondly, solely looking at Count Octave’s run at Chester, which reads quite hopeful. The inexperienced three-year-old got taken a back early, David Probert wanting to find cover to settle the still fairly green colt. Next he got outpaced two furlongs out, before keeping on encouragingly to finish a two and three-quarter length fifth – prompting me to produce my pen and notebook for some more scribbles next to Count Octave’s name.

The Chester race was over one mile and four furlongs, in Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot he will tackle one mile and six furlongs for the first time — which ought to suit him well. Oisin Murphy will ride him, while he should cope adequately with the likely fast underfoot conditions too. This all gives me hope that Count Octave could be something quite special, given more time and experience, while his run at Ascot today is just another step on that journey.

Andrew Balding: Four runners to follow at Royal Ascot

Royal Ascot is the jewel in the crown of the British racing calendar and one which is eagerly anticipated each year by trainers, jockeys, owners and fans alike. So with the Royal meeting less than a week away, I thought it might be a good opportunity (and rather fun) to write a little about Andrew Balding’s top hopes for the prestigious meeting. So, what can we expect from Park House Stables’ potential runners at the nearby Berkshire venue?
Here Comes When, the seven-year-old gelding by Danehill Dancer won on his seasonal debut — the Hambleton Listed Handicap at York — in great style. The Royal Hunt Cup at the Royal meeting was identified as the gelding’s next target. He has a strong preference for softer conditions, so wouldn’t want things too quick at Ascot. He will also have to overcome being near the top of the weights in the Heritage, racing off an official rating of 110.

Wednesday, 21 June 5.00 — Royal Hunt Cup (Heritage Handicap)


Horseplay’s last appearance was the dramatic race that was the Investec Oaks and the filly still managed to plug on for fourth as the field finished pretty strung out. Before the fillies Classic she had done little wrong; winning her maiden impressively at Nottingham last season before bravely landing the Pretty Polly at Newmarket on her seasonal debut this term. This gives us all the ingredients of her planned appearance at Royal Ascot a definite air of intrigue.

Thursday, 22 June 3.40 — Ribblesdale Stakes (Group 2)


Count Octave, the three-year-old by Frankel, is a colt that holds huge potential this season. Those who watched his run in the Chester Vase last time, will have noted the race for it competitive nature; that race produced this year’s rather surprising Investec Derby winner — Wings Of Eagles (second). At Chester, Andrew Balding’s colt was only three and three-quarter lengths back in fifth, he seemed outpaced two furlongs out, before keeping on in the straight. This all makes positive reading for his expected Royal Ascot appearance.

Friday, 23 June or 24 Saturday — King Edward VII Stakes (Group 2) or Queen’s Vase (Group 2) 


Duretto was a little unlucky at Chester in the Ormonde, finishing a staying on three-quarter length third, behind US Army Ranger in second and John Gosden’s eventual winner Western Hymn — not the worst form to have on your racing CV. The Manduro five-year-old is a consistent type and seems to be getting better with age and this season we may see the very best of him as he hits unprecedented new heights.

Saturday, 24 June — Hardwicke Stakes (Group 2)


Casual Look: A Classic tale

Casual Look, Andrew Balding’s most successful filly in his impressive training career to date. The American bred seventeen-year-old is currently enjoying a happy retirement, after a racing career that ended in 2003. She went on to foal five horses in total, albeit without any of the quintet making too much of an impact in the world of racing – Casual Smile was the exception and the only one to achieve ‘black type form’, winning a group 3 for trainer Chad C Brown in America.

Casual Look made her debut as a two-year-old at Ascot over six furlongs in July 2002. Initially, she was very green and inexperienced, giving some trouble when entering the stalls on her debut. In the race itself, she started slowly, was far too keen, before settling a little better, and then finally staying on to finish a five lengths third to Ed Dunlop’s Nasij. Martin Dwyer rode her that day and it was a partnership that was to last and flourish (mostly) for ten or her eleven racecourse appearances.

That early promise at Ascot continued, and was even more evident on her next outing at Salisbury in August. This time over seven furlongs, she appeared to show a lack of experience at the finish; upon hitting the front one furlong from the winning post, she could only stay on the one pace, maybe thinking she had done all she needed to do by hitting the front and then, seemingly, taking things easy close home.

Next up, in September, she made the short journey to Bath. Here, she traveled like a dream and won very easily by eight lengths. This performance seemed to signify that she was learning but foremost, that she had ability; this prompted owner and trainer to run her in the group one Fillies Mile at Ascot, twelve days later. Trainer and connections were not to be disappointed, as the 2-year-old daughter of Red Ransom ran a blinder to finish second behind James Fanshawe’s talented Soviet Song – and we all know how good she was.

Casual Look finished her opening season at Newmarket, running in the group two Rockfel Stakes. She again ran with plenty of credit, finishing second behind Roger Charlton’s Luvah Girl, who made all to win. It was a solid debut season from Andrew Balding’s promising filly, and left much excitement for the following year.

However, she was given a tough task in her first race of 2003 – the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket. Despite this, she was not disgraced, finishing sixth, and was even a little unlucky in running; denied a clear run at one point, before running on encouragingly inside the final furlong. Following on from that run in the Guineas, people – most notably the bookmakers – started to take the Andrew Balding filly seriously. Next up, the Oaks at Epsom in June, was identified as the target.

At Epsom she traveled beautifully, settled nicely in the pack for the much of the race; it was a far cry from the inexperience of those early runs of her career. Everything seemed to fall just right for her this day, and Martin Dwyer sat mostly motionless onboard her until the exit of Tattenham Corner. On the swing into the straight gaps opened up for her and Dwyer began to get more vigorous in the yellow and green silks of owner William Stamps Farish III. At the two furlong marker she was angled to the outside and given further urgings for even more effort. Meanwhile, the Aiden O’Brien filly, Yesterday – the favourite – was tracking in behind, patiently waiting for a clear run. However, Casual Look was not for catching, and Dwyer rode the perfect race to win the prestigious British Classic.

A section of the media talked endlessly about how unlucky Yesterday had been, but if you watch the race again, Casual Look certainly didn’t appear like she was stopping come the finish line. Maybe if Yesterday had got a clearer, smoother passage, the outcome might have been tighter, but on this day, it was Andrew Balding’s talented filly that prevailed.

The day will also be remembered for the emotional scenes post race, most noticeably between Andrew and his sister Clare – Clare Balding was the presenter for BBC racing at the time – and by clinching his first Classic as a trainer, it all added to this special day for the Balding family.

Casual Look, unfortunately, for the remainder of her racing career never exceeded those exploits on Epsom downs in June. She was tried in the Irish Oaks in July, but could only achieve a third place finish – interestingly, Yesterday, finished behind her on that occasion too (two lengths back in fourth). Subsequent disappointments followed: in the Yorkshire Oaks (finishing seventh of the eight runners) and a below par effort in France in the group one Prix Vermeille Fouquet’s Barriere (finishing eighth of the eleven runner field) – Yesterday, finally finishing in front of her and a head second to the Godolpin winner: Mezzo Soprano.

In my eyes, Casual Look did bow out on a high, albeit not a fairytale goodbye. She took her chance in Keenland, America, in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup; a grade one race for three-year-old fillies over one mile and one furlong. She was well towards the rear, held up, before making swift headway and finishing strongly but ultimately too late and a little unlucky not to win on what was to be her final appearance of a very memorable racing life.

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