Godolphin greats: Balanchine - the first Classic winner (1991-2021)
Foaled in the US in 1991, Balanchine was bred by Robert Sangster’s Swettenham Stud and the striking chestnut filly impressed from the moment she stepped onto the racecourse in September 1993, winning on her debut at Salisbury by three lengths, before storming to a seven-length victory at Newbury later the same month.
Purchased by Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al Maktoum at the end of her juvenile campaign, Balanchine was one of the first of a group of horses sent to Dubai by Sheikh Mohammed to winter in the sunshine.
Balanchine got off to almost the perfect start on her three-year-old debut, coming agonisingly close in the English 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket where she was beaten by the narrowest possible margin, a short head.
On her next start, Balanchine lined up against nine rivals in the second Fillies’ Classic of the year, the G1 Oaks at Epsom.
Heavy rain ensured the going was soft by the time the race went off, but despite the conditions, Balanchine made a determined move three furlongs out and could not be caught, going on to win by two and a half lengths.
Balanchine was recording not one, not two, but three firsts: the first ever Classic winner for both Godolphin, the first for jockey Frankie Dettori, and the first ever horse trained in the UAE to win a Classic.
She was the trigger for Sheikh Mohammed’s policy to campaign horses all over the world from Dubai.
The Oaks was, however, by far from Balanchine’s greatest moment on the racecourse. Later that June, she travelled to Ireland where she would face undoubtedly her biggest challenge yet – running against the colts in the Irish Derby.
Her main opponent was that year’s Derby second King’s Theatre, running in Sheikh Mohammed’s maroon and white silks, and he proved to be her only threat as she took up the running with four furlongs left to run.
While King’s Theatre momentarily looked to be travelling best of all, once asked for another effort passing the two-furlong marker, Balanchine kept on finding and ran on brilliantly to win easily, with clear daylight between her and her male rivals.
The race had been won by a filly before, when Salsabil was victorious by three quarters of a length in 1991, but Balanchine’s dominant victory ensured her place in the history books.
Retired to the paddocks the following year, Balanchine lived out her days at Gainsborough Farm in Kentucky, USA. She passed away at the age of 30 on February 12, 2021.