by Garrick Knight
photo courtesy of : Sharlene Mitchell

Derek Balle scoffs at the suggestion his exciting juvenile trotter War Machine “did a thousand things wrong” when winning at Alexandra Park on Friday night.

The big, bold son of Pegasus Spur defied his far older opponents with a strong performance with Balle in the sulky.

He had rolled off the marker line when in the lead at the 600-metre mark and that seemingly prompted commentator Aaron White to come up with the ‘thousand things wrong’ claim.

“No, I didn’t think he did much wrong at all, to be honest,” said Balle.

“In fact, he’s one of the safer two-year-old trotters I’ve had.

“He rolled marginally off the rail down the back and I thought Mango (Brent Mangos, driver of Anzac) was a bit cheeky poking through underneath him.

“He barely got his legs in there. But we had a murphy on and he didn’t see it coming. When I saw it was Anzac I wasn’t too worried. I figured we were still 600 out and he wouldn’t be there at the finish.”

So it proved, with Balle content to sit parked around the final bend, monster Anzac and kick out to defy the ever-honest Gotta Go Twinkle, who recorded her eighth minor placing.

“We just mooched around the bend and I felt we always had them covered.”

Balle is more than a dab hand with trotters – he’s won the Inter Dominion Final, Rowe Cup and Dominion Handicap – so it pays to take notice when he says one is a good horse.

“He would have been right in it in the Jewels if he hadn’t of got checked at the wrong time. As well as that we didn’t have a lot of racing before then as got kicked in the leg and had a bad cold. So there have been a few little niggles that prevented him from getting enough races in to him before the Jewels. He’s a big, over-grown horse but he’s only two and will surely develop further next season.”

He will go out for a spell now, but that won’t be ‘home’ to Southland, where he is owned, and was developed.

“He’s going out now; we will put him aside for a good few months and get to work on him again in the spring. It’s too cold and miserable down south so we will find him a nice, fresh paddock up here that’s not water-logged.”

Balle has a close association with War Machine’s owners, Kenny and Jo Baynes, who have sent him numerous horses to train over the past few seasons.

“Kenny brought him up here at the Weanling Sale for $3000 and took him home. Robin Swain did all the early work with him.

Tony Stratford does most of their horses down there but Kenny said he if he sent it Tony he wouldn’t get it back off him because he would like it too much.”

Balle flew down to Gore last year and stayed with the Baynes for a micro holiday.

While he was down there, he drove then-yearling War Machine at Swain’s.

“He gave me a good feel and felt like a nice horse then. He ended up having one workout down there and trotted a mile in 2.10 at Gore and Robin thought that was enough to send him up to me.

Obviously they don’t have any two-year-old trotting races down there at all.”

Balle has trained plenty of trotters but has not had too many Pegasus Spurs through his stable.

“Cool Cobber is probably the best one I’ve had by him. There was a filly out of Martina H but she wasn’t super flash and from I’ve seen and heard they seem to be either very good or no good.”

On Cool Cobber, the rising nine-year-old is close to a race track return for Balle and the Baynes’ after injuring a second suspensory before Christmas.

He is prodigiously-talented and Balle is hoping they can get him back to the form he showed when fourth behind Master Lavros in the 2014 Rowe Cup.

“He’s a couple of weeks away. He’s been going to the beach and swimming and a few other things and he is not too far from racing provided his legs hold up.”

It’s been a mixed season for Balle, who with a month to go has recorded 11 wins, down from 23 three seasons ago.

But he is on track to earn more stakes than he has since 2010 so in that regard, it hasn’t been a bad season.

“It’s been a reasonable season highlighted by a couple of nice horses coming through. Kenrick has probably been the star of the show; he kept improving as the season wore on. Ideal World is another nice type that we have just gelded and turned out.”

For a second successive year, stable owner John McIntosh took Balle shopping at Karaka in February and as a result he has three commercially-bred yearling colts by Bettor’s Delight and Art Major to sink his teeth in to.

But they won’t be seen at Christmas time, even if they are looking close to good enough.

“They all broke in well and are due to come back in shortly for another prep. I have to say I’m not a big fan of the Young Guns concept. We had a go with Kenrick and Mark Purdon brought up Lazarus for the first heat. Then in the next heat he rolled out Chase The Dream with a 1.56 mile rate. So in that regard it is putting too much undue pressure on them at a young age so I will probably be missing the early races.”

Balle is also on the board of the Auckland Trotting Club, as an Appointed Director representing Franklin Park.

“I’m enjoying it; it’s quite exciting with the apartments and developments going ahead there at the moment.”

So will Balle and wife Raelene be buying a trackside apartment?

“Not quite; I need to win a few more races yet!”