Bangkok poised to provide Derby with emotional storyline
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the popular late owner of Leicester City, also dreamed of success on the race track and on Saturday his horse named Bangkok could realise that dream in English racing's blue riband of the turf, the Epsom Derby.
Vichai -- whose loss in a helicopter crash last October outside Leicester's stadium provoked an outpouring of grief in the city -- invested around £30 million ($37.8 million) in 60 horses in recent years.
He enjoyed some success -- he had two winners on the day of the tragedy -- but Bangkok is the first that has a serious chance of landing a prize in equine terms that would rival the prestige of Leicester's fairytale Premier League title in 2016.
Fortunately for Bangkok's trainer Andrew Balding, who has the majority of Vichai's horses which run under the name of King Power Racing, Vichai's younger son Khun Aiyawatt, known as Top, took up the reins.
King Power's colours have been regular visitors to the winners' enclosure this season and not just in England -- Fox Champion won the German 2000 Guineas.
Bangkok, who Vichai paid £500,000 for Bangkok at the sales two years ago, has impressed in both his victories this season and will face 12 other rivals for the first prize worth just over £900,000.
He has already beaten one of the main contenders, Telecaster, who went on to win the key Derby trial the Dante Stakes, which persuaded trainer Hughie Morrison to pay £85,000 to supplement him for the race.
Balding -- whose father Ian trained the great Mill Reef to win the 1971 Derby -- is confident Bangkok can confirm his form with Telecaster and is the ideal sort of horse for the challenging undulating Epsom course.
"He's a lovely horse to watch," said Balding. "He's very well-balanced and looks just the type for the race."
There will, though, be mixed emotions should he prevail on Saturday for the King Power team.
"It's just so sad the Chairman (Vichai), as we all call him, is not around to see the fruits of his investment," said Alastair Donald, King Power's racing manager.
"The Chairman gave Bangkok a strong name because he stood out on pedigree."
- 'The crowning jewel' -
Bangkok will have to contend with an astonishing seven runners from record-breaking Irish handler Aidan O'Brien's stables.
The 49-year-old -- who has often been criticised for flooding big races with several runners -- will have his main hopes on Sir Dragonnet to deliver him a record equalling seventh Derby.
Sir Dragonnet, to be ridden by first-choice stable jockey Ryan Moore, was also supplemented for the race after an impressive eight length victory in the Chester Vase earlier this month.
"We will not know if he was flattered in his trial at Chester, they went fast on soft ground," Moore told The Daily Telegraph.
"He had to come around them all and was very impressive.
"Bookies favourite says a lot," added the 35-year-old, who has won the Derby twice.
As great an exploit as O'Brien's would be to welcome home a seventh Derby winner the roars might be louder if the other Irish contender crosses the line in front.
Madhmoon is trained by 86-year-old Kevin Prendergast, who will bid to succeed where his legendary father Paddy just fell short.
Prendergast Senior won every other English classic but he never fared better than runner-up, Alcaeus in 1960 and Meadow Court in 1965.
His son has not even had a placed horse -- although he has rarely had a runner since he took up training in 1963 -- but is confident about his horse's chances of breaking the Prendergast jinx.
"I can't reverse it ?- but I'd like to!" joked Prendergast to The Irish Times about his age.
"I'd be satisfied if it (winning the Derby) does happen. It would be the crowning jewel."
? 2019 AFP