1971 Derby – I can’t believe he did it so easily.

28th May 2018

“I can’t believe he did it so easily” recalled trainer Ian Balding when asked about Mill Reef’s 1971 Derby triumph.

Continuing our series of Q & A’s with Ian Balding, our third blog covers the build up to Derby Day and the young trainer’s memories of the 2nd June 1971 and Mill Reef's 1971 Derby victory.


What specific training preparations did you take in the lead up to Epsom?

I never favoured one of the trials so it was always straight to the Derby.  I was personally never confident about him staying the trip until we had a mini gallop about 10 days before the big race.

We covered 1 ¼ miles in the fog and I went down to set them off and cantered back a short route to watch them finish.  As they came into view out of the fog it looked like a grey horse on its own and I thought “Oh my God it’s Aldie” (his grey lead horse) but happily it was Mill Reef and he did it in a good time too!

Were you worried about the contours of Epsom?

No. After Mill Reef’s main gallop 10 days before the Derby I had every confidence that he would get the trip and handle the track.

Mill Reef 2000 Guineas 1971

What was it like having the Derby favourite at Kingsclere?  With the world’s press interested did you take any special precautions?

I have to say that I much enjoyed having the Derby favourite and was happy enough dealing with all the press and their questions. We did employ a night watchman with his dog before the Derby and I think he stayed for most of that year!

How did you personally handle the pressure, I understand you had an interesting trip to the races on Derby Day?

I think I handled the pressure OK (It was easy also to have such a nice owner who was many miles away too!!). 

The journey to Epsom was horrific.  The traffic from London had all been sent around our way so when we were stationary for 10 minutes I got out and ran the last 1 ½ miles - we had a runner in the previous race.  My wife, Emma got there in our car just in time to see the Derby!


What were Geoff Lewis’s instructions on the day and how did they differ from the 2000 Guineas?

Again I didn’t give Geoff any specific instructions for the Derby.

What were your personal recollections of the race?

Mill Reef was always in the perfect position and never looked like not winning unless he didn’t stay.  I recall thinking “I can’t believe he did it so easily”.

What were the celebrations like afterwards?

The celebrations were good – Emma, my wife and her mother Priscilla and I all went up to London to have dinner with Paul Mellon.  We had a party a few days later in our own little Albert Hall in the village for all the staff.  I can remember the horsebox being stopped in the village by the lads and them running beside it for that 1/3 mile back to the stable yard after the Derby.


1st Mill Reef                                      G Lewis                100/30 Fav

2nd Linden Tree                              D Keith                     12/1

3rd Irish Ball                                     A Gilbert                 25/1

Won by two lengths: two and half lengths between second and third.


Blog by Stephen Wallis, Visitor Services