Eve Johnson Houghton is hoping Accidental Agent will cap a record-breaking season for her by landing the £250,000 Balmoral Handicap on QIPCO British Champions Day on October 21.
The fast improving three-year-old features among 71 entries revealed today for the richest mile handicap in Europe. It is the final race on a glittering card that carries £4.3 million in prize money and includes four Group 1 contests.
Accidental Agent was bred by Johnson Houghton’s mother, Gaie, and she owns him as well, though not by design. “He went through the sales ring and nobody even looked at him,” the trainer explained. “He was bought back in for £8,000 or something.”
The Delegator colt has subsequently won three of his eight races and after a fluent win at Kempton put up a personal best when touched off by Tabarrak in a Listed contest over seven furlongs at Newbury last Friday. As a consequence, his official rating has jumped from 92 to 104, giving him a much better chance of making the cut for the Balmoral Handicap, which has a safety limit of 20.
“The Balmoral is about a month away and it’s quite possible Accidental Agent will run in it,” Johnson Houghton said. “We didn’t make the entry for fun - it’s with serious intent.
“I was going to try and preserve his handicap mark but he’s the first foal of the mare and a homebred, plus you have to go up in the handicap to get into the good ones, so Newbury was a win-win.”
On his marked improvement this month, she said: “He’s on a roll after having a very easy time of it this summer. He’s had a couple of niggling problems, nothing major, and just needed a bit of time.
“We thought he was a really nice horse last year and were slightly disappointed with his two runs early doors this season but a bit of time off and some TLC seems to have worked the oracle.”
Accidental Agent has yet to race beyond seven furlongs but has hinted that a mile will be well within his compass. “Everyone in my team keeps telling me he’s crying out for a mile,” Johnson Houghton said. “Charlie Bishop [his regular rider] has been nagging me for ages about it. They [jockeys] think they know best but it’s not their neck on the line!”
Johnson Houghton began training in 2007 and has already sent out 45 winners from her base in Oxfordshire this term - four more than her previous best tally achieved last campaign. “We are enjoying a great year and a winner on QIPCO British Champions Day would be perfect,” she said.
Bronze Angel, winner of the Balmoral Handicap (sponsored by QIPCO) in 2014, could try to regain his crown at the age of eight but is not the oldest among the entries. That honour goes to the evergreen Belgian Bill, who is nine and won the Royal Hunt Cup in 2013.
Saeed Bin Suroor saddled Musaddas to win the Balmoral Handicap in 2015 and has a team of four to shuffle this time in Yattwee, Very Talented, Mountain Hunter and Big Tour. Richard Fahey also has a quartet engaged, including Gabrial, who was third to Solow in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on QIPCO British Champions Day two years ago.
Remarkable (second), Firmament (third), Afjaan (fourth) made their presence felt in last year’s renewal of the Balmoral, won by Yuften, and could return, while Master The World, winner of the Betfred Mile Handicap at this year’s Qatar Goodwood Festival, is one of two possible runners for David Elsworth.
Tickets for QIPCO British Champions Day are selling fast, with The King Edward VII and Winning Post Enclosure’s both Sold Out, meaning only the Queen Anne Enclosure has tickets available. Find out more.