Balding’s dreaming ‘Blondie’ can be his Sunday girl in the LONGINES Hong Kong Cup

Back in 2004, a young British trainer named Andrew Balding travelled a horse called Phoenix Reach to compete in the Hong Kong Vase. And the record book reveals that Phoenix Reach delivered a powerful surge up the Sha Tin straight to land a 27/1 victory under jockey Martin Dwyer.

Phoenix Reach hadn’t been in great form in the months before that victory, a very different profile to the challenger that the now 44-year-old Balding brings to compete in Sunday’s (10 December) 2017 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup.

The mare in question is Blond Me – or ‘Blondie’ to those close to her. By contrast to Phoenix Reach, she has enjoyed a fantastic season, climaxed by victory in October’s G1 E P Taylor Stakes at Canada’s Woodbine racecourse.

Recalling Phoenix Reach’s Hong Kong win in just his second year as a trainer, Balding said: “It was a very big deal at the time.”

There have been plenty of big deals for Balding since and his stable has just enjoyed another terrific season back home that included Here Comes When’s Group 1 victory in Goodwood’s Sussex Stakes and a new personal best for season’s earnings.

As for Blond Me, she receives some extraordinary and interesting praise from the trainer, whose Kingsclere Stables in Berkshire, England, now houses around 180 horses.

“She is the easiest horse I have trained, and if she had a human personality she would be the best friend you could have,” he said.

Balding isn’t one for extravagant predictions and doesn’t anticipate extra improvement from the mare on what will be her 18th and final start before a second career as a broodmare in France.

Pointing especially towards her second in Goodwood’s G1 Nassau Stakes in August as well as the Canadian win, Balding said: “Her form of this year is what she brings to the table. She’s easy to get fit, relatively fresh and can be in the mix.” As to whether Sha Tin will be her cup of tea, he simply said: “Any horse should appreciate this track. It’s as good and fair as they come.”

Blond Me on the All-Weather track on Friday morning, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club

Meanwhile, owner Barbara Keller’s enthusiasm for ‘Blondie’ was irrepressible as she spoke about the mare at Happy Valley on Wednesday evening.

“We all need dreams and ‘Blondie’ has made the dream come alive,” said the Swiss-based owner.

“Odeliz won me a Group 1 in France (Deauville’s Prix Jean Romanet) a couple of years ago and it is really amazing what these horses can do for you,” she said as she joyfully recounted the six countries that happy traveller Blond Me has already raced in. Apart from Canada, they include the United States and Turkey, where she won last year’s prestigious G2 Topkapi Trophy.

Oisin Murphy rode Blond Me then as did the 22-year-old at Woodbine last time, when the pair showed little mercy to their rivals as they made their charge down the outside.

“He’s a superstar,” is how the owner unhesitatingly described Sunday’s big-race jockey who has first-hand knowledge of Sha Tin from his short spell in Hong Kong last season.

“We’ve been thinking about this race for ages, and we are so appreciative to be here,” said Keller.

Win, lose or draw, she, Andrew Balding, and the ‘Blondie’ team including Leanne Masterton – who has been riding the mare all week – are clearly hugely enjoying this Hong Kong racing experience.