The master of Kingsclere struck at the highest level during his first season with a licence as Casual Look claimed Oaks glory at Epsom in 2003, but while he has enjoyed success on the world stage since with the likes of Phoenix Reach and Side Glance, another Group One triumph on home soil has proved elusive.
Elm Park, a son of Balding’s Canadian International, Hong Kong Vase and Dubai Sheema Classic hero Phoenix Reach, is set to start as the hot favourite to bring Balding’s long wait to an end at Doncaster this weekend, having completed a hat-trick in the Royal Lodge at Newmarket late last month.
Conditions on Town Moor are likely to be more demanding, but Balding, who is Australia overseeing the final preparations for Side Glance’s Cox Plate bid this weekend, is confident Elm Park will cope with whatever is thrown at him.
Speaking from Melbourne, the trainer said: “I haven’t seen him myself for the last 48 hours, but when I left he was in fantastic shape and I’m told he’s still in fantastic shape.
“We’re obviously looking forward to the race. He’s done absolutely nothing wrong so far this year.
“The ground is going to be soft, but I’d like to think he could cope with most things.
“I’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t run a huge race.”
Andrea Atzeni, who landed last year’s Racing Post Trophy aboard Kingston Hill, will be in the saddle for part-owners Qatar Racing.
Mark Prescott is keeping his fingers crossed there is no further deterioration in ground conditions to allow Celestial Path the chance to put his unbeaten record on the line.
After an impressive success on his racecourse debut at York at the end of July, the Footstepsinthesand colt ran away with a Listed prize at Haydock early last month, but Prescott is keen to keep him away from demanding terrain.
“He’s declared, and he’ll go to Doncaster, but if the ground were to get very soft then we wouldn’t run him,” said the Heath House handler.
“We’d very much like to run him, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens with the ground and the weather.
“He has always worked like a nice horse and I’m pleased so far he has run like a nice horse on the track.”
Prescott has trained multiple Group One winners during his career, but has not struck at the top level since Hooray’s Cheveley Park Stakes triumph four years ago. “It would be lovely (to win another Group One). It’s been too long,” he said.
Aidan O’Brien has a tremendous record in the race, with High Chaparral (2001), Brian Boru (2002), St Nicholas Abbey (2009) and Camelot (2011) among the Ballydoyle stars to have struck gold on Town Moor.
This year O’Brien is double-handed with Curragh maiden runner-up Jacobean, the mount of Colm O’Donoghue, joined by stable companion Aloft, who won at Newmarket last time and will be partnered by William Buick.
Snoano is an interesting contender for trainer John Gosden, jockey Paul Hanagan and owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum.
The improving Nayef colt has won minor events at Sandown and Newbury and Sheikh Hamdan’s racing manager, Angus Gold, is hopeful he can make the grade.
Gold said: “He’s a very nice horse who is hopefully going to get better.
“His breeding suggests he’s a horse who is only going to improve.
“Hopefully he’ll handle the ground all right. It was pretty bad ground when he won at Newbury.
“I’m not saying he’s going to go there and win on Saturday, but I think he goes there with a worthy chance.”
Restorer ran a fine race to fill the runner-up spot in the Autumn Stakes at Newmarket earlier this month, prompting connections to stump up the £17,500 supplementary fee.
Although he was a 33-1 shot at Headquarters last time, trainer William Muir was not surprised his charge performed so well and is keen to test him at the top level.
The Berkshire handler told At The Races: “We felt from the very first time he ran that he’d like softer ground and we ran him in the Autumn Stakes, where the ground was on the quicker side, and he ran a fantastic race.
“The ground should not be a problem, but the race is strong.
“Elm Park is a very decent horse and Celestial Park is very good.
“Of the rest of us, I feel our form is as good as any of them. We will go there and see if we can step up again.”