Epsom Derby 2019: Bangkok could be emotional winner of 240th staging

Casual Look wins the 2003 Epsom Classic
Andrew Balding-trained Casual Look (left, with sheepskin noseband) wins the 2003 Oaks
Investec Derby
Venue: Epsom Downs Racecourse Date: Saturday 1 June Start time: 16:30 BST
Coverage: BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Sport website

When Andrew Balding was successful in an Epsom Classic race in his first season of training, the tears flowed freely.

These were tears of joy, shed during a famously touching post-race BBC TV interview with Balding's presenter-sister Clare about Casual Look's victory in the 2003 Oaks.

Were Bangkok and his jockey Silvestre De Sousa to win the 240th staging of Epsom's Derby on Saturday, emotions would run even higher given the unmistakable poignancy of such a result.

Bangkok, unbeaten in his two races in 2019, was one of the original big-money purchases made by the late Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha as the Thai billionaire spread his investment in British sport after bankrolling Leicester City, of which he was owner and chairman, to football's Premier League title.

However, barely a year after paying 500,000 guineas (£525,000) for the son of Derby winner Australia, 'the Chairman', as he was known, tragically died with four other people when their helicopter crashed after taking off from the King Power stadium in Leicester in October 2018.

A challenge on Flat racing's premier Classic by Bangkok, one of about 100 horses which race under the Srivaddhanaprabha family's King Power Racing banner, with their jockeys wearing silks in the Foxes' blue and white colours, on 1 June had been long been planned.

"It's just the greatest sadness that he's not here to be part of it," Balding, 46, based at the historic Kingsclere stables on the Hampshire/Berkshire borders, told BBC Sport.

"His dream was to have runners like this going to the Derby and to Royal Ascot and to all the major international races, and to Leicester as well, of course.

"The first time he came round the yard he loved seeing all the horses so much that he practically wanted to buy all of them - he didn't have any at the time.

"And I suppose, with the club in mind, he really liked that this is Kingsclere and one of the yards is called Flying Fox [after the 1899 Derby winner] which was trained here.

Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha pictured at Newmarket Racecourse
The late Leicester City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was often seen at race meetings

The colt, described by stable staff Reece Senior and Maddie O'Meara, who look after and ride him, as "cool and cheeky - maybe like [Radio 1's] Greg James" - will be Balding's sixth Derby runner.

Best of his previous contenders was Bonfire, second favourite in 2012 after success in the often-significant Dante Stakes at York, but sixth behind Camelot; the stamina of another big fancy Elm Park didn't last out the mile-and-a-half race-distance behind Golden Horn in 2015.

But the ever-burgeoning Kingsclere stables, with gallops dating back to about 1780, the year of the first Derby, has a highly prominent place in the Classic's long and colourful history.

In all, nine winners have been trained on its lush acres of downland, seven, between 1868 and 1899, by John Porter, a record score - held jointly with Robert Robson (1793-1823) - which Irish champion Aidan O'Brien is hoping to equal with a powerful raid from County Tipperary.

The Srivaddhanaprabha connection

However, perhaps the most significant came in 1971, when the operation consisted of just 61 horses - these days, there are 205 - and the trainer's father Ian successfully prepared the iconic, race-great Mill Reef.

Clearly, with the Srivaddhanaprabha connection and his own family's heritage, becoming the latest chapter in the story of the Derby would be memorable on several fronts.

And I detected an optimistic tone when we discussed prospects.

He said: "I wanted to avoid this year's Dante as it was so close [16 days] to Epsom and he was really well so we went to the trial at Sandown at the end of April which he won nicely.

"That's quite a long time until 1 June, but he was very impressive first time out [beating subsequent Dante Stakes winner Telecaster] off the back of a very long break, and he ran a stellar race first time out last year - he's naturally a very fit horse and I don't think space between his races is a problem.

"Aidan has had nearly a clean sweep of the trials, but we've had some runners in those races, and knowing some of my horses which ran against his I feel we're in a good place."

Jockey Silvestre de Sousa riding Bangkok
Jockey Silvestre de Sousa will ride Bangkok in the 240th Epsom Derby

And it's not just about Epsom: on Sunday 2 June, the Balding team saddles Raise You in the Prix du Jockey Club, France's equivalent of the Derby - although staged over a quarter-mile shorter - at Chantilly.

Raise You is two wins from two starts in 2019, successes that mean, according to his trainer, he "deserves to go", and pundits believe he has a good chance.

Exciting but nervy times: little wonder when I parked next to Balding at Epsom's Breakfast With The Stars preview event his response to my 'How are you?' query was 'Ask me again in a fortnight'.

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