First Flow put up a remarkable performance to outrun a clutch of established Grade One stars for victory in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Clarence House Chase at Ascot.
Kim Bailey’s nine-year-old mud-lover was stepping up to the top level over fences for the first time in his career, but extended his winning sequence to six – taking on reigning Champion Chase hero Politologue from a long way out and staying on to win by seven lengths at 14-1.
First Flow, ridden in trademark style by the dynamic David Bass, was also providing the popular Bailey with his first Grade One success since Master Oats won the 1995 Cheltenham Gold Cup for him.
Paul Nicholls’ 11-8 favourite Politologue led early, and First Flow was always his nearest pursuer – as the pair built up a sizeable lead over the rest of the eight-strong field in the back straight.
Relishing the soft conditions, First Flow took over on the turn towards home and stayed on with great determination to repel all challengers, with Politologue second and Waiting Patiently just holding on for third ahead of the closing Fanion D’Estruval.
Bailey was quick to praise Bass, saying: “You have to hand it to that guy on top, who knows him so well. We realised we couldn’t take on Politologue for the lead from the start, but David took the bull by the horns.
“I was absolutely staggered, to be honest, because we both felt the ground wasn’t going to be soft enough and that if he had finished third he would have done very well. I admit I didn’t expect him to improve like that.
“He had a hard race at Wetherby (Castleford Chase on December 27), but we gave him an easy week, and that’s what’s happened. I’m so pleased for the owner Tony Solomons, who is my longest-standing patron. He’s 92 and has been with me for 40 years, showing that loyalty is a great thing in life.”
The Champion Chase obviously enters the equation for First Flow, and Bailey said: “Regarding Cheltenham, he has only been there once before when he ran in the Supreme (of 2018), but I wouldn’t mind going back there.
“If it’s soft or good to soft at Cheltenham you would have to think about the Queen Mother very seriously.
“Getting back to David, I had an irate punter ring up and criticise him to me, and I am so pleased that he has had to eat his words, because David got some of the best jumps out of the horse I have ever seen from him. He (Bass) never lets us down – he’s got better and better, and adores the horses.”
He added: “I never thought (First Flow) would get to Grade One level, but I feel we should give it (Cheltenham) a go. We have eight to 10 pounds to find, but he is obviously improving. It’s quite an emotional moment. This horse can’t school over fences at home and jumps over tractor tyres.”
Bass said: “I have always seen him as a proper two-miler, and he has a touch of class and can handle most types of ground.
“I didn’t really want to be too close to Harry (Cobden, Politologue), but he winged the fences down the hill – and then, between the third-last and second-last, I let him fill himself up so that he had something left for the finish.”
Bass admits First Flow’s improvement has surprised him – but he is emboldened after this victory to head for the Champion Chase.
“Why not? Let’s have a go,” he said.
“Let’s take on the big guns again, and hope for a bit more improvement.
“I’m still a little bit surprised he put up that performance. I knew that he’d improved, and was on a real winning streak.
“He’s really stepped up again, and I can’t believe he won as he did.
“He jumped so well – he was brilliant down the hill, and just made up so much ground jumping.
“We’ve had two or three quiet weeks, and we were starting to get a little bit concerned. But there’s nothing like a Grade One winner to let everyone know our horses are still in good form.”
First Flow’s jumping was pinpoint precision throughout – in direct contrast to most of his practice with Bass back at Bailey’s Cotswolds yard.
“I promise you – he’s frightened the life out of me at home,” added the winning jockey.
“I think I got a fall off him last year, schooling – he’s very average jumping at home, always has been.
“He wasn’t a natural. But on the racecourse, he’s been brilliant – and today was as well as he’s ever jumped.
“Knowing the horse as I do, I’m conscious in my head to either really go forward and attack a fence or take him back and get him underneath me. I said to myself, if I was meeting those fences right down the hill, then really attack them.
“That’s what I did. I was seeing good strides, and he was really winging them – and I didn’t want to disappoint the horse. He was enjoying it, and so was I. We were here to give it a go, and I wanted to be positive.”
First Flow also demonstrated that he does not necessarily need bog-like conditions to show his best form.
Bass added: “I think Kim’s given me a bit of stick, because I’ve always said he loves heavy ground – but he’s a classy horse, and he obviously handles soft, good to soft ground, which I thought it was today.
“I’m really pleased for the horse. He’s a real character, and a yard favourite.”