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.