Racing news: Trainer Tony Balding awarded an OBE

GRAND National-winning trainer Toby Balding has been awarded an OBE for his services to racing in the New Year Honours List.

Balding, 74, not only won the world’s greatest steeplechase twice with Highland Wedding (1969) and Little Polveir (1989), but had the rare distinction of claiming the two other biggest races in the National Hunt calendar.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup went his way with Cool Ground in 1992 and he saddled two winners of the Champion Hurdle, Beech Road (1989) and Morley Street (1991).

He first took out a licence in 1957 and trained more than 2000 winners in all on the Flat, as well as over jumps.

Balding also nurtured many young jockeys, including 15-times champion and BBC Sports Personality of the Year Tony McCoy and the now successful Irish trainer Adrian Maguire.

Although Balding retired from training at the end of the 2004 Flat season, he has remained part of the racing scene by serving on several committees and organisations.

In December 2006 he was elected an Honorary Member of the Jockey Club.

“It’s gob-smacking. All one has done is one’s duty and one’s job,” he said.

“We are all racing folk and all do a very good job for racing. As far as I am concerned, this award is for racing.

“I have been politically active for a long time in that I was part of the triumvirate that started the National Hunt Trainers’ Federation that turned into the National Trainers’ Federation and that was 40-odd years ago.

“Then I had three years on the British Horseracing Authority.

“I am honoured. Racing has been very good to me and anything I might have given back it deserved. And like the majority of us, we are all racing nuts.

“Magic is how I describe racing. I’ve spent most of my adult life playing with other people’s toys!

“I’ve been blessed in that I’ve had some very good horses.

“The only organisation I am on at the moment is on the Jump Racing Development Group, but I might get myself involved again because I think it’s absolutely essential that racing has a strong voice.

“It’s where my loyalties have always been. I’m a jumping man through and through, though I have been lucky enough to have some extremely decent Flat horses.”

Jim Gale also receives an OBE for his services to the racing industry.

He was chief executive of the Northern Racing College at Rossington, near Doncaster, until his retirement in 2009.

TARANIS 15 declared runners for the Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday.

The nine-year-old made a sensational return from over two years on the sidelines when winning the Argento Chase at this track last January.

He was not disgraced when seventh on his reappearance in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury.

His trainer, Paul Nicholls, also saddles the consistent Five Dream, but he has not found the winner’s enclosure since October 2009.

Recent Peterborough Chase hero Tartak is turned out again by Tom George, while the Nicky Henderson-trained Carole’s Legacy returns to fences following victory in a Listed hurdle race at Kempton.

Sue Smith saddles her likeable veteran Mister McGoldrick, who officially turns 14 on the day he lines up, while Knockara Beau, Door Boy and last year’s winner Can’t Buy Time are all notable contenders.

Noland and Edgbriar are among those who have not been declared.

BIG Zeb will just have one more run before bidding to retain his crown in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

Colm Murphy’s crack two-miler landed the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown late last January en route to taking Festival honours in March.

That race on January 30 will again be the next port of call after he showed his class with victory in the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown on Wednesday.

“He’s very good, he’s been out in the paddock and there’s not a bother with him,” said Murphy.

“We thought he’d be a bit short of work because of the cold weather, so it’s great that we know he’d be better for it.

“That was the key thing, so we’re delighted.

“The Tied Cottage the obvious one, the same as last year and keep it nice and simple.”

Big Zeb is around a 7-2 shot for the Seasons Holidays Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham on March 16.

DERMOT Weld is likely to finalise a programme for Ascot Gold Cup winner Rite Of Passage in the next two weeks.

The Curragh trainer has to decide whether to run the Giant’s Causeway gelding over hurdles this winter or save him for another visit to Royal Ascot in June.

“He’s in great form, he’s back cantering,” said Weld.

“We’ll make up our minds in a couple of weeks time whether he comes back over hurdles or not, or whether we will train him specifically for the Gold Cup again.”

Rite Of Passage showed very smart form over the smaller obstacles last season, finishing third to Peddlers Cross and Reve De Sivola in the Neptune Management Investment Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

However, his finest hour to date came in the summer when he took the big prize at Royal Ascot when sent off a 20-1 shot.

MAJESTIC Concorde could be Dermot Weld’s first runner in the John Smith’s Grand National for 25 years following his victory in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown.

The Curragh trainer, who saddled Greasepaint to run in the Aintree spectacular four times in the 1980s, will give the Definite Article gelding an entry.

But whether Majestic Concorde will turn up on Merseyside in April will depend on what weight he is allotted in the world’s greatest steeplechase.

“The Grand National is a definite possibility. He’ll be entered for it,” said Weld.

“We’ll see what the handicapper does. He’s not a big horse, he’s only medium size, so it depends on what weight he gets.”

Greasepaint had a tremendous few runs in the National, finishing second in 1983 and 1984, fourth in 1985 and 10th a year later.

“I’ve been second in it with Greasepaint many moons ago,” Weld went on.

“That was a long time ago so maybe we should have another runner in the race and he’s the horse, but it depends what weight he gets.

“He’s a similar sort of horse to Greasepaint but he’s not big so the weight will be the vital factor.”

Although Majestic Concorde was a 33-1 outsider in the valuable handicap chase at Leopardstown on Wednesday, Weld felt he was not without a chance, although he was worried about the testing conditions.

“We probably forgot he was the class horse of the race. I was obviously concerned as he’d never won on heavy ground before,” Weld continued.

“We’d been fortunate on the Curragh that the gallops had been very well maintained during the very difficult period.

“He’s one of those easy horses to keep healthy and sound, he doesn’t take a lot of work.

“He’d had a busy year. He ran a very good race in the Chester Cup. He just missed out in a photo and was fourth. He ran a cracker in the Galway Plate and was a close third.

“He’s been on the go the entire year and is rated 100 on the Flat so he’s a class horse.”

BRILLIANT Newbury winner Backspin is likely to gain further racecourse experience before heading to the Cheltenham Festival in March.

The five-year-old joined Jonjo O’Neill after winning an Irish bumper in the spring and impressed on his hurdling debut at Bangor.

He then emerged from the fog well clear of his rivals in the Grade One Challow Hurdle and Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus, was impressed with what he saw.

He said: “He did it nicely. I couldn’t see an awful lot of it to be honest, but you’d like what you saw when he came out of the fog anyway!

“He went and won well at Bangor the first day for Jonjo and he’d obviously learned a bit from it and come on, so you’d have to be pleased with him.

“Hopefully we can get another run into him before Cheltenham, as the experience wouldn’t go astray on him.

“We’ll just play it by ear and see how we go, but I’d say we’ll stick to the two-mile-five (furlong) race at Cheltenham (Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle).”

CONNECTIONS of Captain Cee Bee are not too disappointed despite him finishing last of four in the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown.

Having signed off his novice campaign with a Grade One victory at Punchestown, he scored on his comeback at Naas and was expected to bridge the gap into championship class at two miles.

Although he came up short against the likes of reigning Champion Chase hero Big Zeb, Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus, hopes the experience he gained on Wednesday will stand him in good stead.

“He was in against the big boys, including the Champion Chase winner, and he didn’t run badly,” said Berry.

“He wasn’t beaten all that far and you’d be hoping on a bit better ground and with a bit more experience, he might get closer.

“We weren’t too disappointed with him. He had a nice blow and hopefully he’ll come on for the run.

“He was in a different league yesterday. He didn’t have much to beat on his first run back at Naas, but it was a different ball game at Leopardstown as apart from Master Minded, they were the best two milers around.

“He has a bit of ground to make up on them, but we’ll be doing our best.”

MOUSE Morris is excited about what the future may hold for First Lieutenant after his battling Grade One victory at Leopardstown on Wednesday.

The previously unbeaten hurdler Zaidpour was sent off at long odds-on for the Future Champions Novice Hurdle, but could not quite reel in First Lieutenant.

Morris takes plenty of heart from the victory given he expects him to be a much superior horse over fences and he hopes he can fill the shoes of former stable star and Cheltenham Gold Cup hero War Of Attrition.

“We’re delighted with him and we were only surprised he won because we thought the trip (two miles) was too short,” said Morris.

“He kind of produced what we thought, but maybe a bit earlier than we thought, without being cocky.

“The heavy ground maybe helped him a bit over that trip, but it definitely isn’t what he wants.

“He’s by Presenting and ideally wants good ground. He’s really a horse for the future.

“He might have one more run, possibly at Cheltenham in the Neptune (Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle), but we won’t be overdoing it this season.

“Hopefully, if we can keep him sound, there’s a lot to look forward to.

“He’s a nice horse to have and I’d definitely rather have him than be running against him.”

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