Dual Classic heroine Balanchine, the filly widely credited as launching Godolphin into a racing superpower, has died at the age of 30. The daughter of Storm Bird had been living in retirement at Gainsborough Farm in Kentucky.
Balanchine entered the history books back in 1994 as the first Classic winner to be owned by Godolphin. At the time, the idea of wintering horses in Dubai ahead of an European campaign was a novelty and in that regard, Balanchine was a trailblazer, with her narrow defeat in the 1,000 Guineas coming just days following her arrival from the winter sun into Newmarket.
Balanchine was acquired by Sheikh Mohammed following an unbeaten two-year-old campaign that had consisted of a pair of wide-margin wins in minor company at Salisbury and Newbury for breeder Robert Sangster and trainer Peter Chapple-Hyam.
Despite that abundant promise, Balanchine was something of a forgotten horse when she reappeared the following May for Godolphin trainer Hilal Ibrahim in the 1,000 Guineas, going off at 20/1 under Frankie Dettori in the 15-runner field. She outran those odds under a prominent ride to flash past the post in unison with Las Meninas, ironically herself owned by Sangster; a lengthy photo finish revealed that Sangster’s filly had obliged by the slimmest of margins.
Balanchine’s run was a significant effort from a filly who would ultimately find her niche over 1m4f and crucially went some way to proving that the Dubai experiment was a success, thereby laying the foundations for the superpower that Sheikh Mohammed was to develop.
However, the best was yet to come. Sent to the Epsom Oaks, she made light of the softer conditions to power away for an authoritative win over Wind In Her Hair and become Godolphin’s first Classic winner. She was even more impressive in victory in the Irish Derby, where her superiority over the Derby second and third, King’s Theatre and Colonel Collins, suggested that she would have been very competitive had she lined up in the Derby itself.
“I was over the moon after I’d won my first Classic on her at Epsom and I though the next step would be the Irish Oaks,” Dettori later recalled in an interview with Go Racing.
“But Sheikh Maktoum and Sheikh Mohammed were never short of a challenge and they decided to race against the colts in the Irish Derby. I thought: ‘God, this maybe a step too far’. Obviously, I was proven wrong because she won.
“I didn’t want to disappoint her, so I just let her run. I remember I took it up just before the straight and I knew she stayed really well and I set sail for home, basically.
“It was a lonely place, the last two furlongs. I thought: ‘well, maybe someone is going to come and grab me’ but she was brilliant that day – she absolutely galloped right to the line.
“I mean, it was a bold call to make a run against the colts and that was, I guess, the steppingstone for what Godolphin is now – the operation expanding and expanded to what we have now. She was the start.”
On that evidence, Balanchine was arguably the best European three-year-old of 1994 but unfortunately a bout of colic that required emergency surgery just three weeks later brought her season to a premature close. She returned to the track the following year but never reached the same level of brilliance, with a short head second to Carnegie in the Prix Foy the highlight of three runs.
At stud, Balanchine produced four winners led by Gulf News, a son of Woodman who ran second in the 2002 Prix Niel for Andre Fabre. While none of her 12 foals came close to replicating her talent, she does have a grandson of potential note in Western Symphony, a Shamardal son of her winning Street Cry daughter Balsamine who looked smart when winning a Newcastle novice for Charlie Appleby recently.
The announcement of Balanchine’s death came just a day following this year’s running of the Group 2 Balanchine Stakes at Meydan. Fittingly, it was won by Summer Romance in the Godolphin colours.