The late David Balfour was a much-loved and respected Adelaide trainer – but also a man ahead of his time.
“His PR skills were very good,” noted former jockey Ricky Pietsch, who won several races on Beau George, one of David’s favourite – and best-performed – horses.
“Back then he used to keep all his owners up to date with what was going on – and nowadays they’re all doing it.
“They send voice recordings to their owners and all that, but David was on the phone to them all the time.”
Approaching the sixth anniversary of the popular trainer’s passing (October 17), Ricky jumped at the opportunity to reflect on both ‘Balf’ and ‘George’.
After returning from a riding stint in Mauritius and finding his apprenticeship with Colin Hayes terminated, Ricky needed a professional lifeline.
“I moved to Morphettville and Balf was just starting out at the time, with Clayton Bromley as his foreman,” Ricky recalled.
“Balf had 30-odd horses and said ‘come and ride for me’. He was like the young, up-and-coming trainer at the time, and even back then he was a hard worker.”
Previously trained by Tony Selfe, Beau George won a string of races for the Balfour stable, including most famously the 1990 Goodwood Handicap, when partnered by Greg Hall (pictured).
Ricky steered Beau George to several victories – including a narrow second at Flemington in the race immediately before the 1987 Melbourne Cup – and described the sprinter as “a lovely horse to ride”.
“But no matter what happened, he always missed the start a length or two, which was a bit of a nightmare once you got into the better-class races,” he said.
“Fortunately he had fairly good early speed, so you’d still be able to take up a handy position.
“But he used to relax so well, because his temperament was beautiful.”
Beau George’s manner and his importance to David Balfour’s career have long been tattooed deep within the psyche of David’s son, Ryan, who remembers 1990 Goodwood day relatively vividly, given his tender age.
“I would’ve been 10, but if you listen to the race call, I seem to remember Ron Papps saying that ‘George’ would need luck to win – he was about fourth last on the turn, boxed up a bit, and looked like he mightn’t be travelling that sharp,” Ryan said.
“But like the old Kingston Town call at the Valley, he dug deep.
“George was a just great sprinter and a great horse to Dad, the stable and everyone involved in him. He was a beautiful horse – a real gentleman.”
Now a successful trainer himself, Ryan says Beau George helped boost his father’s career at a crucial time.
“Dad was having good success early in his career as a trainer, but to have a horse like that really put him on the map and probably opened doors for him, to train in Singapore and other success as well,” he said.
“He was a really important horse. Dad named his stables at Camden Park ‘Beau George Lodge’.
“George nearly won two Goodwoods; he ran second to Crush, and he ran third in another Goodwood as well.
“He won $487,000 – in this day and age that might be worth a couple of million, depending on what the Goodwood was worth.”
Underlining his class and durability, Beau George won seven black-type races, including the McKay Stakes (1988), two Christmas Handicaps (1988 and 1989), Goodwood (1990), SA Trophy (1990), Irwin Stakes (1991) and Spring Stakes (1991).
“He ran in all those top-line races on the SA program,” Ryan said.
“When you look at the races he won on the SA sprinting calendar, there wasn’t many he didn’t win.”
After his retirement, Beau George was given the honour of leading out a Goodwood field and showed his competitive juices were still flowing.
“I’m pretty sure they got Pat Glennon or Jimmy Johnson to ride him – I think it was Pat Glennon,” Ryan said.
“I think they were just meant to trot the field up, but the horse got that keen he half took-off.
“Old George led them up the straight, turned around to come back and then he got rocking...
“I think it would have been a great buzz for the horse and for Pat – whether Pat wanted to at the time or not.
“He wasn’t a horse that was a handful or anything, but just with the crowd and the excitement… it’s a bit like some of the old blokes when they throw on the footy boots again.”
Ryan says Beau George’s Goodwood win may have been his father’s career highlight as a trainer.
“Dad used to talk a lot about George and I’d say that win would be right up the top,” he said.
“Dad had a lot of wins, including another Group 1 in Victoria, and high success in Singapore and Malaysia, but we all know that the Goodwood is a time-honoured race and it’s a really special race.
“In terms of SA races, that would be the race I’d most want to win.”
David was well liked by his racing peers, including Leon Macdonald, who spoke at his friend’s funeral service in 2014. The pair spent countless hours chewing the fat during trackwork in Morphettville’s Tower of Knowledge and Leon retained a deep affection for his training colleague.
“We talked about everything up there – some of it wasn’t for publication,” Leon said.
“He was a good bloke, a good trainer, and worked hard at what he did
“His funeral showed the respect he had. There was an enormous crowd.”
Leon enjoyed a long connection to David, stretching back well before the pair’s training days.
“I knew him when he was an apprentice jockey,” Leon said.
“He rode either his first or second winner for my father, when he was a young apprentice.
“I went to his wedding – I go way back with him.”
After Beau George’s distinguished racing career ended, he was retired to a property near Ducatoon Park, on the Yorke Peninsula.
David’s wife, Robyn, said Beau George was a travelling companion for foals and yearlings heading to medical appointments.
Robyn said David often visited his retired, much-loved champ.
“And he never forget who David was,” she said.
“He was just a beautiful horse.”