Tom Symonds’ diary: Clare Balding is simply the best

  • Horse & Hound is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy. Learn more
  • Royal Ascot was a multidimensional celebration of talent and tradition. These combined made for a spectacular event. While the horses made their own headlines, the BBC presentation was made in immaculate fashion by consummate professional Clare Balding.

    Clare is a relatively unsung hero and one with an embarrassment of riches in the knowledge department. The void that the BBC has left has been enlarged by the fact that Clare will no longer adorn our screens. Her attention to detail and intense enthusiasm is captivating. Ascot is somewhere she particularly excels, as there is so much that needs explaining and so many personalities to interview that one needs extensive knowledge of the intricate details.

    Peter Dimmock was right when giving Clare so much credit for being the special headline act. In addition, in her Racing Post column Hayley Turner describes her as “in a class of her own”, which basically confirms that if presenters were handicapped like horses, Clare Balding would be pounds higher than her rivals – rather like Frankel. A British presenter to be proud of.

    Who shone at Ascot?

    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune made Ascot the best sporting saga.

    The highlight for me would be Frankel. My sister Lydia – who actually spent the week on the BBC team – suggests that racecourse vets and doctors will have to start using Ferraris to keep up with this horse. This may be the best way to try to describe the indescribable.

    Willie Mullins once again carried all before him with his runners and Simenon simply sauntered home with the Ascot Stakes and Queen Alexandra Stakes.

    John Gosden had his team in ferocious fettle and, if you describe the ambitious young as “hungry”, then William Buick is starving. One had to feel for him unfortunately getting nutted on the line by Ryan Moore in his gallant effort for the top jockey award.

    More is what we would like to see of Black Caviar, but sadly not on our shores. One would have to admit to there being a hollow aspect to her victory. She did look demure walking round the paddock before the race and tired afterwards. For Australia it wasn’t just about winning a race; it was about maintaining its sporting pride. Celebrate the Aussies did, but most likely after removing their hearts from the mouths. She came, saw, didn’t annihilate but won and, as trainer Peter Moody said, he would settle for an inch.

    One must spare a thought for my former boss James Fanshawe, who not only lost a potential sprinting star to injury in Deacon Blues but also lost valuable lengths at the start of the Diamond Jubilee Stakes when Society Rock sat down in the stalls. While one never knows what might have been, he was eye-catching when finishing late and fast.

    A royal revival

    Ascot brimmed with pride at The Queen’s horse Estimate impressively winning the Queen’s Vase and, appropriately, it saw a resurgence in the fortunes of trainer Sir Michael Stoute. He was unlucky to be doing battle with another Aussie ace in So You Think with Carlton House, but he also added to the Juddmonte racing and breeding operation’s prize haul with Sea Moon.

    Both Sir Michael and Frankie Dettori let the horses do the talking, and former champions they may be but has beens they are most certainly not. The finish to the Gold Cup couldn’t be written if you had tried.

    Frankie had the choice between Colour Vision and Opinion Poll. In addition, with heir apparent Mikael Barzelona rumoured to be enthroned as number one in Godolphin’s also resurgent kingdom, then a lot was at stake. Mikael is definitely snapping at Frankie’s heels – well, he literally was on Opinion Poll – but to no avail. Like Black Caviar, it wasn’t just a race, but also represented the old brigade reasserting their authority.

    What’s happening at Dason Court?

    At Dason Court the Doncaster Sales store purchases are all broken in and hacking up the gallop. It is a hair-raising time and not for the faint-hearted, but great fun. As I have been reminded, they are all dreams at the moment with potential to be realised.

    It has been rather quiet, other than King’s Apollo disappointing at Uttoxeter. It is back to the drawing board as he took regressive, rather than progressive, steps. He jumped right all the way and lost valuable ground. He has never shown a tendency to hang at home, but he is still so mentally immature that I won’t judge him too harshly just yet. There are a few things I will change that may help him.

    While I was delighted to see my view confirmed, I wasn’t quite prepared for it so soon with ex-pat Ballybough Gorta winning at Hereford on Sunday. He is a horse who I thought would appreciate the summer ground and fences. All his siblings’ wins have come on good going or faster. Sadly for me, with the weather not helping and pressure to run before his sale date, he is a winner now but for Peter Bowen, whose team are in cracking form.

    The remaining thought is with John Gosden, who described racing as a game of vicissitudes. While he sadly lost one potentially good horse in The Nile at the Royal meeting, the winners then started to flow. They do say this game can tame lions.

    You may like...