On this day - April 23
It was goodbye Australasia and hello world after Balmerino ended his New Zealand race career in style, with a runaway win in the Ormond Memorial at Hastings, on this day in 1977.
Balmerino, then a four-year-old, won the weight-for-age Ormond (now a Group I race) by five lengths, to give him a record of 13 wins, four seconds and a third from 19 starts in his homeland. His one unplaced run came in a two-year-old race at Hastings.
Over the same period he had six wins and three seconds from 12 starts in Australia.
He was raced by his breeder, Ralph Stuart, and trained at Cambridge by a youthful Brian Smith, who is still training successfully in Brisbane.
Balmerino had only four starts in New Zealand as a four-year-old but emphasised his quality each time.
He just failed to catch the top sprinter Soliloquy in the Waikato Sprint (1400m), before stepping up to a middle distance and beating Tudor Light and Battle Eve in the Air New Zealand Stakes, the country’s richest weight-for-age race.
He then won the Awapuni Gold Cup by three lengths, beating Copper Belt and La Mer, before a quick trip to Sydney, where he won the weight-for-age Autumn Stakes (2000m), two days before finishing sixth, under 59kg, in the Sydney Cup. The Ormond win came less than a fortnight later.
Then came the busy part of his campaign, for a horse who had already made two trips to Australia that term, following a testing three-year-old season that produced 14 wins and three placings from 18 starts.
By the end of 1977, Balmerino had also raced in California, England, France and Italy and capped the year with another trip to the US.
It was an arduous schedule, but he was still able to record wins in California and England, run second in the Arc de Triomphe, Europe’s premier weight-for-age race, and be first past the post at Group I level in Italy.
Smith continued to prepare Balmerino when he had four starts in California, which included a win at Hollywood Park, but the horse was transferred to English trainer John Dunlop for his European sojourn.
Balmerino won a listed 2000m race at Goodwood first up in England, before tackling 25 rivals in the Arc de Triomphe (2400m) at Longchamp, a performance that was to define his career.
He came from well off the pace in the big field to run second, beaten 1.5 lengths by the three-year-old Alleged, who was cleverly rated in front by Lester Piggott. It was a superb performance by Balmerino. The build-up had been far from ideal and the run gained further merit when Alleged, who was beaten only once in his career, returned to win the Arc again the following year.
Following the Arc run, Balmerino was relegated from first to second in a Group I race in Italy and completed a big year by finishing fourth in the Washington International in Maryland.
He earned a Timeform rating of 133 in 1977. Only top-class horses earn a rating above 130 and Balmerino’s mark would have earned him the title of champion older horse in Europe in six of the past 10 years.
He had another campaign for Dunlop in 1978, winning a second listed race at Goodwood and recording Group I seconds in the Coronation Cup and Eclipse Stakes, without quite reaching the heights of the previous year.
He was retired to stud in New Zealand and left seven individual Group I winners, including Bounty Hawk, who won five Group I races in Australia.
Balmerino, who died in May, 1996, aged 23, was an inaugural inductee to the NZ Racing Hall of Fame and is also a member of the Australian Hall of Fame