Balthazar King is a true warrior, as durable as they come – with multiple Grade One wins and a second in the Grand National; he’s a huge favourite amongst racing fans, a true legend. The striking bay gelding was bred at the Sunnyhill Stud in 2004 before beginning his racing career in March 2008 at Newbury Racecourse.
Sired by King’s Theatre, from the lines of the great Sadler’s Wells, in October 2008 he moved to Philip Hobbs’ yard to train. In his first race under his new trainer, ridden by the jockey Richard Johnson, he recorded his first win at Plumpton by almost 4 lengths. This win was his third run in a National Hunt Flat (Bumper) races, and he debuted over hurdles the following month, with 16 runs in total before he went chasing. His first win over hurdles was at Ffos Las, and he recorded several more wins and placings over the 2009/10 National Hunt season.
The Ladbrokes Beginners' Chase at Worcester was Balthazar’s first race over fences, which he won in September 2010. Over his next 6 races he clocked up 3 more wins, the last of those wins saw him set off as the favourite at an even price at Cheltenham. He loved Cheltenham winning 8 and placed in 4 races over his 17 runs at the course. Most notably he won two Cross Country Handicap Chases during the 2012 and 2014 Cheltenham Festival. In 2014 Any Currency, Big Shou and Balthazar King battled it out around the final turn on the course, leading over the last. As they raced alongside each other, the crowd cheering Any Currency and Balthazar King to the line, it was the latter that edged just in front. A photo finish was called, and Balthazar King was awarded his second title in this race under a top weight of 11st 12lbs. That win set him up nicely ahead of the Grand National meeting at Aintree the following month.
2014 was an incredible season for Balthazar King – he finished 15 lengths behind the winner for second place in the Grand National at Aintree Racecourse. That year the race was won by Pineau De Re. Balthazar was 3 lengths behind the winner as they cleared the last – he kept his pace but just couldn’t keep up with Pineau De Re as he accelerated towards the line.
That May, Balthazar King headed to France to race in the Cross Country race at Le Lion D’Angers. By now the cross country races had become his speciality; he entered the race as the 5/4 favourite, before sadly falling 5 from home. Staying in France, he won the Grand Cross Country de Craon listed race, once again as the well backed favourite. Before the year was out he returned to Cheltenham, a track that suited him and he won the Cross Country chase.
However, in the spring of 2015, it was all set to change. The Aintree Grand National meet arrived and the stage was set for the world’s greatest steeplechase – could Balthazar King go one place better than the previous year, and take the title himself? It wasn’t to be – he crashed out at the Canal Turn on the first circuit. Falling heavily, he stayed down. He tried to stand but couldn’t – the veterinary team rushed over to him and tests found he’d broken several ribs and punctured a lung. Whilst that itself was not life threatening, and he’d recover, he contracted pneumonia.
He may not have won, far from it, but the public loved this horse – a beautiful horse with a gutsy determination to win. A star of recent years, fans sent him cards and treats during his six week stay at the University of Liverpool Equine Hospital.
Following a miraculous recovery he returned to the track the following the season for the 2016 running of the cross country race at Cheltenham. Race-goers arrived in the parade ring to see the runners off before they headed to post. Could this be a fairy-tale recovery for Balthazar King – with countless victories on this circuit, everyone was hopeful; other horses have made a comeback like this before, take Sprinter Sacre for instance. But for some, just seeing him return so fit and well after the fall at Aintree was enough to send a buzz of excitement in to the air. Would the King reign once more over Cheltenham? Travelling well until the sixth, he clipped the top of the bank, causing Richard Johnson to tip forward and become unseated and the horse to fall. Balthazar got up and continued to run – there was disappointment, but relief that both jockey and horse were okay.
After his fall it was decided that he should be retired. He was well, but it would take time for him to recover, and with his previous injury trainer Philip Hobbs decided to call it a day. But where is he now?
Balthazar King lives with Izzi Beckett where he enjoys hunting with the Tedworth Hunt and other neighbouring packs. He took to it like a natural, he loves to pass other horses out hunting as though he’s still on the race track but will happily look after the children on their lead rein ponies at the back. He is a true professional in everything he does. Balthazar King has been back to the track since his retirement to parade in the ever popular ROR parades – and he’s still a fan favourite to this day after his remarkable career and recovery. You can tell a lot about a horse by simply looking at their face – Balthazar gazed around the yard as he watched the daily comings and goings – he had a soulful presence about him, a kind and intelligent look across his eye but an aura of boldness and bravery too.