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Escobar seeking repeat in Balmoral Handicap

21 Sep 2021


David O’Meara will bid to win the £200,000 Balmoral Handicap (sponsored by QIPCO) at Ascot on QIPCO British Champions Day for a third time in eight years with Escobar, who won the race in 2019 and looked as good as ever when second in Listed company at Sandown last week.

O’Meara, who also won the Balmoral with subsequent Queen Anne Stakes winner Lord Glitters in 2017 and saddled Escobar to finish second to Sharja Bridge in 2018, is responsible for seven of the 95 entries for the event, which was run for the first time in 2014. 

The total of 95 entries is a record for the Balmoral Handicap, up 16% on the previous high of 82 in 2019.

The bumper entry for the only handicap run on QIPCO British Champions Day, which carries total prize money of £4m for its 10th anniversary meeting and will be held on Saturday 16th October, also includes eight possible runners from Ireland and three from France.

When Escobar won two years ago he came from last to first – just as Lord Glitters had – and he beat John Gosden’s Cambridgeshire winner Lord North in terrific style by two and a half lengths. However, whereas Lord North has gone on to success at the highest level in both the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes and the Dubai Turf, the strong travelling Escobar has struggled to get his head in front. 

Last week’s Sandown second behind the smart three-year-old Mostahdaf was a cracking effort all the same, and the demands of the Balmoral Handicap, over Ascot’s straight mile and with a virtually guaranteed strong pace, suit him ideally.

O’Meara likes to target the Balmoral and alongside Escobar he has entered Rhoscolyn, who finished fourth behind Mostahdef and Escobar last week, Hortzadar, who was a good second to Irish Admiral at Redcar last time, Shelir, who is a regular in similar company and has been second five times this year, Young Fire, who was second at Ascot’s Shergar Cup, Orbaan, who was down the field in 2020, and Tammani, a recent acquisition from France.

He said: “Escobar seems to like it down at Ascot at that time of year, which surprised me as I always thought he wanted better ground. He’s an ideal type for the Balmoral, where the strong pace, which you generally get down there, helps. 

“He is what he is, and unfortunately he’s been nudged back up a pound for his good run at Sandown last week, which will make it a bit tougher for him. He could be vulnerable to horses who might be better handicapped, but he’ll run his race again. 

“The others are all intended runners too, and we’ll just see how they are in the lead up to the race.”

John Gosden has had no luck in the Balmoral, for Lord North was his fifth second in the race following Maverick Wave (2014), GM Hopkins (2015 and 2017) and Remarkable (2016). Now operating in partnership with his son Thady, he has entered a team of six, headed by the lightly-raced three-year-old Uncle Bryn, who won over the Balmoral’s course and distance earlier this month and looks set to go off favourite for Saturday’s Cambridgeshire Handicap at Newmarket, just as Lord North did when winning that race two years ago.

Uncle Bryn is joined by the stable’s Lincoln winner Haqeeqy, who will be among the top weights, last month’s York second Magical Memory, more recent Sandown runner-up Al Rufaa, last weekend’s Newbury third King Leonidas, and last Thursday’s Chelmsford winner Sunray Major. The last two have only just returned to action and will be fresher than most.

The weights for the Balmoral Handicap, for which there is a safety limit of 20, are likely to be headed by last year’s Silver Hunt Cup winner Sir Busker, who finished third behind Palace Pier in the Queen Anne Stakes when returning to Royal Ascot in June. William Knight’s five-year-old also holds an entry in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) the same afternoon.