David Bass might have been in a band had he not been a jockey – but Kim Bailey’s man surely made the right decision, based on the strength of his book of rides at the Cheltenham Festival next week.
Bass and Bailey are racing’s odd couple. At differing ends of the political spectrum they may be, but Bass’ forward-going style in the saddle seems to suit Bailey’s horses, and this year their partnership is flourishing.
With a Grade One in the bank thanks to “winning machine” First Flow in the Clarence House, they have four realistic chances at the Festival.
It could all have been so different, though, for Bass – whose musical tastes may not meet with the weighing room’s universal approval.
“I was probably more of a ‘pop punk rocker’, ” said Bass.
“Our band weren’t modelling ourselves on the Sex Pistols or the Clash, anyone like that – we were more modern-day pop/punk, like Green Day. As I got older I got into more of the punk from the 70s.
“I was a drummer. I was average. I didn’t practise enough – but if I wasn’t a jockey I could possibly have been a musician. I loved playing live.”
Bass is also more vociferous than some regarding jockeys’ mental health and in particular their diet. He himself is a vegan.
“Our job is diet and nutrition, and I always find it interesting how a lot of jockeys cope differently with their weight,” he said on a call hosted by Great British Racing.
“I’m one of the heavier lads and have always struggled with my weight. I probably cope better now than I ever have.
“I just find it interesting, and the whole vegan thing can lead on to that. I’ve been doing it for over two years. I’d like to think it has helped, because ever since I’ve started the diet I’m so much more knowledgeable about what I’m eating and always looking at what is in certain foods.
“I do feel since I’ve been on the diet it is as healthy as it has ever been – but in saying that, when I first started it was pretty bad. I would eat the wrong things and also binge and then lose weight quickly. I wasn’t healthy when I was younger.”
Bass and Bailey’s association began at Towcester one day in May 2014 – and it got off to a flying start.
“I rode a horse for Kim at Towcester one day, Crazy Jack. It came about because a friend of mine, Ed Cookson, worked at the yard at the time,” explained Bass.
“I went to give him the saddle, and Kim said ‘I’ve never heard of you, I don’t know who you are, but Ed says you can ride’ – and luckily he won, and not long after that I started riding out for him. The rest is history, I suppose.”
Imperial Aura is the arguably the pair’s biggest hope next week, in the Ryanair Chase, but he does need to put an early exit at Kempton last time out behind him.
Bass said: “At Carlisle I was really excited about what I felt – it felt like he’d improved a lot since I last rode him in a race, and that day I felt he could progress to being a genuine Grade One horse.
“At Ascot he was progressive again. You could pick holes in that form, but he couldn’t have done it any easier.
“At Kempton, while I hate making excuses – the horse made a mistake, and I got unseated – but I’m convinced he was looking at the shadow on the wing. He’d jumped out to his left earlier too, so he was looking at something.
“He’s schooled brilliantly since, and I find his jumping is better the quicker he’s going, so the way the Ryanair should pan out will suit him.
“I think he’s good enough to win and I’m excited to ride in the race.
“It can only be a positive the he’s had three good runs there and won last year. Cheltenham form is a big boost.”
Vinndication had other options next week but has recently been confirmed as a runner in the Stayers’ Hurdle.
“He’s a horse that people have probably got bored of me banging on about, how good I think he is. I’ve got so much faith in him, but he’s obviously been fragile to train,” said Bass.
“Last year I thought he was a certainty in the Ultima. But he hadn’t run since November, and we couldn’t get a racecourse gallop into him, and he just got tired.
“This year we got a racecourse gallop into him – because he hasn’t run since the Ladbrokes Trophy – and as far as the hurdling option, we had a discussion and felt he was just physically finding it hard over fences.
“We gave him a school over hurdles, and he seemed to really enjoy it. He’s the type who could run well in the Stayers’, because he races behind the bridle. I think that track will suit him as well.
“We also have Younevercall in the race, who was fourth in the Long Walk, and there wouldn’t be much between them. I hope Vinndication can prove to everyone how good he is.”
Happygolucky is favourite for the Ultima Handicap Chase on the first day of the Festival, and Bass struggling to come up with a negative.
“I think he’s got a great profile for the race,” he said.
“I’ve always really liked him, and he’s a true professional. He’s a good traveller, he jumps well – and while it’s his first handicap chase, I’m not concerned about that because he has a great temperament.
“He ran a very good race in the Martin Pipe last year, and was fourth, but he’s always been crying out for three miles. We stepped him up last time, and he won at Cheltenham. He’s so straightforward and handles any type of ground.”
First Flow is already in bonus territory. Bass does not feel he needs soft ground to be seen at his best any more – but he has some formidable opponents.
“He won’t be frightened, he’s a great horse but a bit of a freak to be honest,” he added.
“I rode him the other day, and he tried to kill me when I was tacking him up. I’m told by everyone at home that is a sign he’s in really good form.
“He’s a horse with loads of character – he has his own routines at home, like always needing to be at the front of the string. He’s a credit to the team and has turned into a winning machine.
“I think if you ask the lads that rode at Ascot the day of the Clarence House they’d say it was no worse than good to soft, so I’m not too worried about the ground.
“As for the track, I know he disappointed on his only run at Cheltenham, but he wasn’t right when he ran in the Supreme – he came back all wrong. He’s won at Doncaster and Wetherby the last two years, but he does seem more comfortable going right-handed. I hope he handles the track.
“Look, it’s a Champion Chase – they are all very good horses, but ours knows how to win and he’s progressing, so we’ll give it a go.”
With Bass also set to ride Moonlighter for Nick Williams in the Grand Annual, it could turn into a special week.
“I’m excited more than anything,” he said.
“I want to try and enjoy it. I feel very lucky to be riding the horses that I am at the best meeting me have. I’m just going to make sure I enjoy riding good horses against the best.
“I’d have to say Imperial Aura is my best chance. All of mine have got a chance – of course I’m going to say that – but Imperial Aura has the course form, and I think he can prove he’s a genuine Grade One horse.”
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