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Frankie Dettori's first Classic winner, Balanchine, dies at the age of 30

Fri 19 Feb 2021

Balanchine, who provided a historic first Classic win for both Godolphin and Frankie Dettori, has died at the age of 30.

The 1994 Oaks winner was a pathfinder for the great Italian jockey and Sheikh Mohammed’s then nascent Godolphin operation – becoming the first of many to be trained over the winter in Dubai en route to major success in Britain.

Godolphin announced the death of their dual Classic heroine on Friday, following a long retirement at Gainsborough Farm in Kentucky.

Watch how Dettori and Balanchine won the Oaks in 1994

Balanchine was trained by Hilal Ibrahim to win both the Oaks and then the Irish Derby at the Curragh, in the space of little more than three weeks.

Dettori was aboard on each occasion, having already finished a short-head second to Las Meninas in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket when he partnered the filly for the first time at the start of her three-year-old season.

Balanchine had won both her juvenile races with ease for owner-breeder Robert Sangster, before being bought by Sheikh Maktoum Al Maktoum and sent to be trained in Dubai en route to her Classic campaign.

Her historic Epsom victory came on rain-softened ground, by two and a half lengths from Wind In Her Hair – the third of four successes in eight career starts.

Dettori, just 23 at the time, later reflected on the significance for both him and Godolphin of her achievements at Epsom and the Curragh.

In an interview with Horse Racing Ireland in 2019, he said: “I was over the moon after I’d won my first Classic on her at Epsom – and I thought the next step would be the Irish Oaks.

“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 may be a step too far’. Obviously, I was proven wrong – because she won.”

Balanchine took charge with half-a-mile still to travel at the Curragh and easily beat Sheikh Mohammed’s King’s Theatre into second.

Dettori added: “It was my only Irish Derby win, and I was only 23, so I was ecstatic and delighted, and it was a massive feat for a filly. She was a one-off.

“It was a bold call to make a run against the colts – and that was, I guess, the stepping stone for what Godolphin is now…she was the start.”

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