With six winners from his last dozen runners, Kim Bailey has his horses at the peak of their powers heading towards the most important stage of the season.
Allez Encore just failed to follow up her win at Bangor last week when beaten half a length at Catterick yesterday. Another mare Faerie Reel made it two from five since arriving from France, when winning at Newcastle two weeks back. At the same meeting a nice young novice hurdler Derrintogher Bliss won like a horse needing three miles or more.
Having broken through the 50 winner’s barrier, Bailey is having his best winter for many a year. It’s now 20 years since he had his greatest week in racing when at the Cheltenham Festival of 1995 he saddled the winner of both the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup. Alderbrook and Master Oats followed on from Docklands Express as stable stars.
Master Oats had won the Welsh National, rerouted to Newbury, before going on to win the Blue Riband at Cheltenham just a few months later. He was then allowed to take his chance in the Grand National off top weight having fallen in the race a year earlier. He ran with great credit until the weight took its toll late in the race. Incredibly he had one last crack at Aintree’s greatest race when at the age of 11 he again lumped the maximum weight over four and a half miles, on this occasion finishing fifth.
The latter part of his career was disrupted by injury and he was retired in 1998 having failed to add to his Gold Cup victory three years earlier. He spent his retirement at the home of Lord Leigh near Adlestrop in Gloucestershire. He died at the age of 26 following a heart attack.
Bailey currently has around 50 horses in training at his stables in the Cotswolds. With prize money this season breaking through the £300,000 mark, the signs are there that he is very much back in the game as a major force in Jump racing.
Cheltenham is of course the mecca for Jumps trainers and this year he has several entrants with each-way chances. The charge is very much led by his talented novice chaser Un Ace. He holds multiple entries but seems likely to compete in one of the handicaps off a decent mark. His trainer recently spoke of his talented seven-year-old saying: "He's a good ground horse and he's had a wind op. He's in the novice chases, but off his mark he'll have to run in the Grand Annual or the Brown Advisory."
He’s been off the track since December when he chased home Champagne West at Cheltenham. A son of Voix Du Nord, he is a powerful traveller who should be capable of a huge run over either the minimum trip or 2m5f.
Knockanrawley is also likely to represent the yard at the Festival, holding an entry in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase. Another seven-year-old, he has been a model of consistency since going over fences. He failed to get home in the Eider Chase at Newcastle, but prior to that had won at Newbury, and a few runs back had chased home the promising Ned Stark. He has won or been placed on nine of his 11 starts under rules.
Finally a mention for yet another mare Emily Gray who could well take her chance in the mares hurdle on day one of the Festival. No match for Glens Melody at Warwick last time, she is nevertheless a talented and gutsy horse who will be suited by the stamina sapping finishing hill at Cheltenham. Expect her to be staying on strongly at the death, and she could just sneak into a place.
It’s wonderful to see one of the great trainers having such a successful season. The climb back towards the Premier League of Jump Racing continues. There’s some way to go yet, but Bailey’s Cotswold operation is building. A winner at Cheltenham next week would certainly go down a treat.