Tag Archive for: First Flow

First Flow in top form following gallant Ascot effort

Connections of First Flow felt the horse put up a better performance in defeat on Saturday than he did when winning the SBK Clarence House Chase 12 months ago.

Instead of collecting the £85,425 first prize, Kim Bailey’s charge had to settle for minor money – £16,050 – in finishing third behind Shishkin and Energumene.

But it was certainly no disgrace in being beaten 19 lengths by the two giants of the two-mile division and he stayed with them until they pulled away after jumping the third-last fence.

“It was a phenomenal race and David Bass said he ran a better race yesterday than he did last year, which gives you some idea how good the race was,” said Bailey.

“It was a fantastic day for racing. As good a day’s racing as we’ve had, all over from Haydock to Ascot and Taunton on TV, which was fantastic, and to see those two horses do what they did was phenomenal.”

First Flow is set to return to the Berkshire track for the Betfair Ascot Chase on February 19.

“He’ll go to the Ascot Chase next month. He’s fine this morning,” Bailey added.

First Flow poised for Clarence House clash with Shishkin and co

First Flow is on course to defend his crown in the SBK Clarence House Chase at Ascot on January 22.

Kim Bailey’s charge was unfancied at 14-1 last year, but floored 11-8 favourite Politologue by seven lengths after being prominent throughout in the Grade One feature.

Having made a successful reappearance in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon four weeks ago, First Flow will attempt to win the prestigious Ascot prize a second time.

First Flow could clash with Shishkin at Ascot
First Flow could clash with Shishkin at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

But he is likely to face a stiffer task this time, with Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin and the Willie Mullins-trained Energumene among the entries. Both are unbeaten over fences and have been successful at the top level.

“I’m absolutely delighted with him and he’s on course to take on Shishkin, and anyone else, who wants to turn up, at Ascot,” said Bailey.

“It will be a bit tougher, but then he was an unfancied horse in the race last year.”

First Flow returns to winning ways in Peterborough prize

First Flow ground out a determined victory in the Fitzdares Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon.

A Grade One winner in last season’s Clarence House Chase at Ascot, Kim Bailey’s charge went on to finish sixth in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham and at Punchestown in the spring.

Stepping up to two and a half miles on his seasonal reappearance, First Flow was a 12-1 shot in the hands of David Bass, but bounced back to form in fine style.

Allmankind and Funambule Sivola battled it out for the lead for much of the way, with the latter winning that particular fight.

But Bailey’s inmate followed Funambule Sivola into the straight before taking over, kicking four and a half lengths clear on the run-in.

Bailey said: “That was great. I’m pleased for Tony Solomons as he is my longest-serving owner.

“It is extraordinary. He (First Flow) is a freak of nature. I got him as a four-year-old and he has been a freak from day one, but that is what makes good horses.

“This race was never on the horizon as he was going to go to Sandown, but when they started watering there I thought it would be crazy for him as he is a horse that wants soft ground.

“I had an argument with my jockey (David Bass) all week. He was convinced he wasn’t going to stay and I was convinced he would stay today.

“Watching First Flow has never been a spectacle and I hate every moment as he crashes through every fence – he has got no respect for anything!

“He is a complete freak of nature and an oddball in every sense of the word.”

On future plans, he added: “I jokingly said this will open up options. There aren’t many to go to, but it does help a little bit.

“I would definitely think he would go back for the Clarence House Chase now and he might get his ground there.”

Allmankind headlines Peterborough Chase cast

Dan Skelton is looking forward to running the in-form Allmankind in the Grade Two Fitzdares Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon on Sunday.

The five-year-old was a winner last time out when taking the Old Roan Chase at Aintree, also a Grade Two, by a length from the smart Itchy Feet under top-weight.

Skelton eased the horse’s workload following the run, but the bay has since returned to full work and faring well ahead of the weekend’s contest.

“It was a great weight-carrying performance by him in the Old Roan at Aintree. He has been a magical horse for us and he is only five, but it seems like he has been around for a long time,” Skelton said.

“You like to win big ones like the Old Roan and we had planned it out as well. We had planned to give him the run at Chepstow over hurdles beforehand and everything just went perfectly.

Allmankind winning the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase
Allmankind winning the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“We backed off him for a week afterwards, but now we’ve increased his work again and everything seems really good. He is much happier over two and a half miles now as well.”

Allmankind beat both Sue Smith’s Midnight Shadow and Venetia Williams’ Fanion D’Estruval in the Old Roan – form since been boosted by their subsequent successes.

“The form of the Aintree race couldn’t have worked out much better either,” Skelton said.

“Midnight Shadow, who finished third, has since won the Paddy Power Gold Cup and Fanion D’Estruval, who was back in fourth, won at Newbury the other day.

“I can’t wait to run him in the Peterborough Chase. He is in fine form at home and I’m really looking forward to it.”

In opposition is Kim Bailey’s First Flow, who has not been seen since finishing sixth in the Champion Chase at Punchestown in April, prior to which he was also sixth in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

David Bass aboard First Flow
David Bass aboard First Flow (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The nine-year-old has since had an operation for kissing spines and would benefit from any rain at the Cambridgeshire track.

“He is well, I’m happy with him,” Bailey said.

“It’s not ideal because he’s a horse that wants soft ground really, but we’ve got to run him somewhere.”

Elsewhere in the race is Colin Tizzard’s Eldorado Allen, who won the Grade Two Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter on his last outing in early November, alongside Paul Nicholls’ 1965 Chase runner-up Master Tommytucker.

Venetia Williams’ Funambule Sivola came home behind Shishkin when contesting the Grade One Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree in April and runs for the first time this season at Huntingdon, with Warren Greatrex’s Keeper Hill also kicking off his campaign in the race.

Bailey outlines possible starting points for First Flow

Kim Bailey’s First Flow could return to action at Sandown in December as the Grade One Tingle Creek is a possible new-season starting point.

The nine-year-old was a three-times winner last term, beginning his campaign with back-to-back victories in handicaps at Ascot and Wetherby before successfully stepping up to Grade One level in the Clarence House at Ascot.

Runs in both the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham and the Punchestown Champion Chase resulted in sixth-placed finishes, after which the gelding underwent a minor operation after being found to have kissing spines.

The Tingle Creek Chase is a possible seasonal comeback for the horse, with another run at Ascot also under consideration as Bailey intends to hold out for soft ground.

“The Tingle Creek is a possibility or we could go back to Ascot and step him up to two and a half miles,” he said.

“It is so ground related for him. He is definitely a better horse right-handed, so we need a wet winter.

David Bass and First Flow after their win in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot
David Bass and First Flow after their win in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I didn’t think it was soft enough the first time he won at Ascot last season and as a result of it he was off the bridle an awful long way out, but he stayed on which suggests he might get further.

“It can get deep at Sandown but we will have to watch what Mr Henderson does with Shishkin as well.

“He is a complete gem – he is a bit of an oddball, but that is what makes good horses.”

Imperial Aura is another Bailey-trained horse who had a flawless start to his campaign last season, winning the Listed Colin Parker Chase and following up that performance with another success in the Grade Two 1965 Chase at Ascot.

His next run was cut short as he unseated jockey David Bass at the second fence in the Silviniaco Conti Chase and a tilt at Cheltenham’s Ryanair Chase also ended in misfortune as the eight-year-old was pulled up when breaking a blood vessel.

The bay will now step back up to three miles and is due to start his campaign in the Grade One Betfair Chase at Haydock in late November.

“Imperial Aura is probably going to go straight to the Betfair Chase as he is now crying out to go over three miles,” Bailey said.

Imperial Aura clearing the last to win 1965 Chase at Ascot
Imperial Aura clearing the last to win 1965 Chase at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He had a wind operation over the summer and he looks a lot stronger than he was this time last year.

“It was very unfortunate he parted company with David (Bass) at Kempton, then he broke a blood vessel at Cheltenham, but I’ve never seen a race run as fast as that Ryanair.

“I think he will come back a stronger horse and three miles will suit him. I don’t know how much more there is to come but three miles will make a big difference I hope.”

Happygolucky was a winner at Aintree last term
Happygolucky was a winner at Aintree last term (David Davies/PA)

Absent from the Bailey stable this season is seven-year-old chaser Happygolucky, who was last seen winning the Grade Three Betway Handicap Chase at the Grand National Festival at Aintree and has since sustained an injury that will sideline him until next year.

“He is not in this season,” Bailey said of the gelding.

“Sadly he has got a slight injury. I could bring him back in at Christmas time for the second half of the season but I decided against it.

“A year off won’t be the end of the world with him and I very much hope when he comes back next season he will be fine.”

Bailey outlines Punchestown and Sandown options for Flow

First Flow could be a rare British-trained runner in Ireland this season with Kim Bailey considering Punchestown or Sandown for his Champion Chase sixth.

Bailey is keen to go back right-handed with the Clarence House Chase winner, who was beaten six and a half lengths by Put The Kettle On.

“He will go, if the ground is suitable, for either the Celebration Chase or to Punchestown. He has improved so much this season and seems a bit more versatile with the ground,” said Bailey.

“If the Champion Chase was run at Ascot, he would have won. David (Bass) struggled to steer him around Cheltenham and he really struggled to handle the bends there, but that was always going to be the worry we had.

“At one point down the back straight it looked as though he was going to be pulled up, so how he has got back to finish where he did in sixth I don’t know, but it was a fantastic effort.”

Having taken his strongest team ever to Cheltenham, Bailey left empty handed, but he was enthused by the performances of Vinndication (sixth) and Younevercall (eighth) in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

Of the former, Bailey said: “If you take all the Irish runners out of the race, he was second to Paisley Park! The problem with him is he jumps most of his hurdles like fences and that has happened as most of his schooling has been over fences, which he will be going back over next season.

“There is nothing to really run him in over fences and I think it would be too tight for him over fences at Aintree. The only other race is the bet365 Gold Cup, but he won’t be going for that, so he will go for the three-mile hurdle at Aintree.”

Vinndication is likely to head to Aintree
Vinndication is likely to head to Aintree (Tim Goode/PA)

Younevercall is to head to for the bet365 Select Hurdle.

Bailey added: “The plan is to go for the Sandown race he won two years ago. He ran a smashing race in the Stayers’ Hurdle. Half-way down the hill we started to get a bit excited.”

Ultima runner-up Happygolucky could run in either a handicap or Grade One over three miles at Aintree, but Imperial Aura, who pulled up in the Ryanair, is finished for the season.

“Unfortunately Imperial Aura broke a blood vessel in the Ryanair and he will now be roughed off for the season,” said Bailey.

“He was out of his comfort zone from the word go, but I think even if he was on song he wouldn’t have won that race as they went so fast. I think we will probably look to step him up in trip to three miles next year.”

Mullins looking to Chacun to end his Champion Chase wait

Chacun Pour Soi faces a critical Cheltenham mission as he bids to complete master trainer Willie Mullins’ full set of Festival titles in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The short-priced favourite will be joined by stablemate Cilaos Emery against eight other heavyweight contenders on Wednesday.

But there is no doubt the hopes of Closutton will be centred chiefly on Chacun Pour Soi to deliver the one Cheltenham championship event that has as yet eluded the Festival’s all-time most successful trainer.

Among his record-breaking tally of victories, at the start of business this week Mullins could count two Gold Cups – after Al Boum Photo conquered that Everest for him in each of the last two years – four Champion Hurdles, two Stayers’ crowns and three Ryanair Chase successes.

He has suffered only disappointment, though, in the top two-mile chasing division – including with his brilliant but fragile favourite Douvan in 2017 and 12 months ago when Chacun Pour Soi had to miss the race because of a last-minute stone bruise.

Since then, the lightly-raced nine-year-old has been imperious in three dominant victories on home soil against the best of his compatriots.

At the prospect of winning the great race for the first time, Mullins said: “It would be huge for the stable and everyone here to get that win and have all the championship races at the Cheltenham Festival.

“I hope he will give us a chance to try to put that away. He’s in great form since Leopardstown (in last month’s Dublin Chase) and does everything right at home, so fingers crossed.”

Mullins is not inclined to dwell on last year’s mishap – and neither was he at the time, because there were a string of other major races he needed to concentrate on.

Willie Mullins and Paul Townend have their sights on the Champion Chase
Willie Mullins and Paul Townend have their sights on the Champion Chase (David Davies/PA)

He added: “It hurts – but at Cheltenham, every 35 minutes it’s a new page, and you don’t really get to think about it or for it to sink in.

“Thankfully we had a good Cheltenham last year – so it’s history.

“It’s different if you had one horse – you would probably wallow in it – but as I said to the lads ‘just put it behind us and get on to the next race’.”

Chacun Pour Soi, who will be ridden by Paul Townend for owner Rich Ricci, developed a reputation for susceptibility to injury as well as brilliance on the track as he managed just four appearances in his first two campaigns for Mullins.

There has been no sign of any problems this season, however, and Mullins understandably has high hopes he can rise to his biggest challenge yet on his first attempt at Cheltenham.

He said: “He had his troubles early on in his career – but now everything has settled down, he just goes up the gallop every morning and does his work.

“He is one of the ones if you had to pick the top five or six travelling over, you’d say he is one that you are really hoping can bring his ‘A’ game there.”

Politologue had his deserved moment in the spotlight 12 months ago
Politologue had his deserved moment in the spotlight 12 months ago (Simon Cooper/PA)

He faces a clutch of top-class contenders – even in the absence of dual winner Altior, pulled out of the race for the second year running because of a late setback.

The challengers are headed by Paul Nicholls’ title-holder Politologue and Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra.

Festival stalwart Politologue had already finished fourth and second to Altior in the previous two Queen Mothers when he won emphatically last year.

The grey – who will be running at the meeting for the sixth time – started this season with a Tingle Creek triumph at Sandown, before finishing second to the vastly-improved and reopposing First Flow at Ascot in January.

“I think it was a good run in the Clarence House,” Nicholls said of Politologue’s most recent effort.

“The ground was probably testing enough for him that day, and he might be slightly better on spring ground – which is why Cheltenham suits him very well.

“He always gives his all. There was no excuse at Ascot – he got beaten by a better horse on the day. (But) he still ran to a very high level, which he’ll do in this race.

“He’s solid and jumps well and will give you a good run for your money.

“Being realistic, we’ve got a nice chance, but it will be hard.”

First Flow was a revelation at Ascot
First Flow was a revelation at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Kim Bailey’s First Flow is unbeaten in his last six races, during which he has risen 25lb – often showing a liking for very soft ground.

His Cotswolds trainer reports jockey David Bass has great faith in his ability to compete at this highest level.

“David totally believes in the horse, and we both know that the horse stays well,” said Bailey.

“We’ve been arguing all season whether we ought to be running over two and a half miles rather than two, but David has been adamant two miles is the right trip – and he’s proved himself right so far.

“He probably just goes through soft ground better than everybody else. I think his last performance probably gave the horse confidence and the jockey confidence that he can handle better ground better than we thought.”

Nube Negra shocked Altior at Christmas
Nube Negra shocked Altior at Christmas (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Nube Negra has run just once this season – but that is by design, and his surprise Kempton victory over Altior at Christmas was a revelation.

Skelton said: “We come here fresh and well. He had a little gallop round Warwick three weeks ago, and I was happy with how that went.

“Nice ground will suit him, and we’re just really looking forward to it.”

Henry de Bromhead supplies two more Irish hopefuls, last year’s Arkle favourite and winner respectively, Notebook and Put The Kettle On.

He said of the former: “The first year he ran (at Cheltenham), he ran in the Ballymore, and he’s never looked as good over a trip as he has since we dropped him back to two miles.

“Last year, yes, he was disappointing – having set off favourite.

“He’s coming here off the back of one less run than last year, so hopefully that will stand to him. He’s a bit fresher, and I would say the better the ground, the better his chance.”

Put The Kettle On has a definite liking for Cheltenham
Put The Kettle On has a definite liking for Cheltenham (Andrew Matthews/PA)

While Notebook fluffed his Festival lines, finishing sixth and last, stablemate Put The Kettle On emphatically did not – at 16-1.

The mare won again at Cheltenham in November, before having to settle for third behind Chacun Pour Soi – and Notebook – at Leopardstown a month later.

De Bromhead said: “She was brilliant in the Shloer obviously, and then she ran very well at Leopardstown.

“We were planning to go to Kempton – but obviously with Covid we weren’t allowed to travel, so we were never convinced Leopardstown was going to be ideal for her. But she still ran really well.

“As we all know, she just loves Cheltenham, so hopefully that’ll improve her a couple of pounds as well.”

The remainder of the 10-strong field features Harry Whittington’s Rouge Vif, third in last year’s Arkle, the admirable Sceau Royal for Alan King and Nicholls’ second-string Greaneteen.

Frodon and Paisley Park among those that offer Festival cheer

It has been a tough few weeks for racing, with the sport shaken to its core by the Gordon Elliott case. However, the show must go on and the Cheltenham Festival can give racing reason to smile again, with the Cotswold jamboree never failing to ignite the senses.

It will be a different Festival this year, with no crowds and strict Covid protocols in place, but we pinpoint five horses that could put racing back in the headlines for all the right reasons:


Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore have developed into a dream team
Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore have developed into a dream team (PA)

Rachael Blackmore has every chance of smashing through the final barrier for female riders with victory aboard the unbeaten Honeysuckle in the Unibet Champion Hurdle on the opening day. Blackmore dished out a tactical masterclass when steering Honeysuckle to Mares’ Hurdle glory last year, and the dynamic duo’s Irish Champion Hurdle domination last month showed just how close the rider could be to a landmark win in one of National Hunt racing’s showpiece events.


Goshen and Jamie Moore suffered heartbreak at last year's Festival
Goshen and Jamie Moore suffered an agonising last-flight mishap at the 2020 Festival (Simon Cooper/PA)

No one could forget the terrible misfortune that befell Goshen and Jamie Moore in last year’s Triumph Hurdle, when a freak incident at the last – with Goshen’s shoes catching after jumping the final obstacle – brought the rider crashing to the ground when wide-margin victory had seemed in the bag. Neither horse nor jockey has had it easy through this campaign either – with Goshen struggling for form before roaring back at Wincanton, while Moore has had the dual challenge of recovering from a broken back as his wife Lucie underwent treatment for cancer. Victory for them both would be a heartening good-news story we could all enjoy.

First Flow

First Flow goes for gold in the Champion Chase
First Flow goes for gold in the Champion Chase (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

It was a long time between drinks for Kim Bailey before First Flow struck Grade One gold at Ascot in January. The trainer had last hit the heights at the top level some 26 years ago, when he enjoyed a dream Festival – winning both the Champion Hurdle with Alderbrook and the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Master Oats. The fact owner Tony Solomons has been with Bailey for 40 years adds an extra layer to what would be a fairytale strike in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. Throw in the fearless riding style of jockey David Bass, and First Flow’s remarkable rise through the ranks from slipshod handicapper to prolific winner, and it is fair to say roofs will be raised in living rooms nationwide one side of the Irish Sea at least if they can somehow get the job done against the might of Chacun Pour Soi.

Paisley Park

Paisley Park will try to regain his Stayers' Hurdle crown
Paisley Park will try to regain his Stayers’ Hurdle crown (David Davies/PA)

A heart problem proved Paisley Park’s undoing when he tried for back-to-back Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle titles last year, but Emma Lavelle’s charge has bounced back in style. He will not be renewing battle with Thyme Hill, with his rival a late injury absentee. That richly-anticipated showdown will have to wait for another day. Paisley Park’s owner Andrew Gemmell – who was born blind – was a joy to behold when his star won this race in 2019, and while we will not be able to share his excitement in the same way, it would be another special victory.


Frodon and Bryony Frost have already tasted Festival glory together
Frodon and Bryony Frost have already tasted Festival glory together (David Davies/PA)

Bryony Frost and Frodon are like salt and vinegar on chips – they just go together. The pair’s Ryanair Chase success of two years ago saw racing make the main news bulletins and front pages, so just imagine what attention victory in the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup would produce. Frost and Frodon broke new ground with their King George win at Christmas – and although they appear up against it with hat-trick seeker Al Boum Photo, a Gold Cup win for this pair could be just the rehabilitation racing’s reputation needs.

Aura tops Kim Bailey’s strongest ever Festival team

Imperial Aura will lead what Kim Bailey believes is “undoubtedly” his strongest ever team into battle at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

Twenty-six years on from completing the Champion Hurdle-Cheltenham Gold Cup double with Alderbrook and Master Oats, the Cotswolds trainer is excited about his chances of adding to his tally at the showpiece event of the season.

“In that big year I had, I had a horse called Simple Arithmetic, who we thought would win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and finished third, and a couple of horses run in handicaps,” said Bailey.

“I’ve never been one for running horses at Cheltenham unless they had a reason for going there.

“This year is undoubtedly my strongest team, (and) Imperial Aura was always going to be at the front of the house.

“We’ve been steadily building up towards this. It’s great that it’s coming to fruition – and now they’ve got to try to prove a point.”

Bailey’s Festival team were put through their paces on Wednesday morning, and the trainer was relieved to report all came through with flying colours.

He said: “We’ve had a very successful morning. We worked all the horses this morning and schooled them all in thick fog. The great thing about working horses in the fog is they always work five times better than they do normally, because none of us can see them!

Imperial Aura heads for the Ryanair Chase
Imperial Aura heads for the Ryanair Chase (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I’m very excited about Cheltenham – having fancied runners at the Cheltenham Festival is why we do it.

“It’s going to be very different this year – it’s going to be very sad (with owners and spectators absent because of coronavirus restrictions).

“I feel very sorry for the racecourse and incredibly sorry for the owners, because Cheltenham is Cheltenham and why so many people get involved in ownership.”

Ryanair Chase contender Imperial Aura won the now defunct novices’ handicap chase at last year’s meeting and was impressive in winning his first two starts of the current campaign at Carlisle and Ascot.

The eight-year-old then unseated David Bass on his latest outing at Kempton, but Bailey is not too worried about that.

He added: “We’ve done extensive schooling with him. He’s a good jumper, and I’m convinced something took his eye off the fence. I’m very thankful it happened there – and hopefully it won’t happen at Cheltenham.

“He worked very well this morning, and schooled very well.

“I’m delighted with the way the horse is progressing. We didn’t go for the Ascot Chase the other day, and we’re hopefully going to Cheltenham as a fresh horse.”

While Imperial Aura was always expected to return to Cheltenham with leading claims, Bailey admits the progression of First Flow into a genuine contender for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase has taken him by surprise.

David Bass aboard First Flow at Ascot
David Bass aboard First Flow at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Unbeaten in his last six races, the son of Primary earned his shot at the two-mile chasing championship with a thoroughly impressive Grade One success in the Clarence House at Ascot on his latest appearance.

“When I made the entry (for the Champion Chase) it was a little bit of a fairytale entry really, but what he achieved at Ascot was phenomenal – it was as good a race as I’ve ever watched in my life, I think,” said Bailey.

“I really enjoyed the fact that he did what he did, and it was the way he did it on ground that we weren’t necessarily expecting him to be that good on.

“It launched us very quickly to a place where we have to go for the Champion Chase – whether we like it or not. He became a horse that’s certainly good enough (to run).

“We’re going forward in a new dimension and in a place where none of us knew we’d be. We’re going to take it on with both hands and with both feet firmly on the ground.”

Bailey would dearly love to add a Champion Chase victory to his CV, adding: “I’ve never had a fancied runner in it – I’ve only had one runner in the race before, and that was a situation where the owners insisted on running him.

“I’ve always loved the race and loved watching it. I go back to the days of Viking Flagship when there was three horses jumping the last upsides in front.

“What a moment it would be to have the horse that passes the post in front in a race like that.”

Bailey plans to make a late call on whether to allow Vinndication to join stablemate Younevercall in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle, or shoot for glory in the Gold Cup.

Vinndication has not been seen in competitive action since unseating his rider in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in November.

Plans are fluid for Vinndication
Plans are fluid for Vinndication (Tim Goode/PA)

“If we were to run Vinndication in the Stayers’, David Bass would ride – so therefore when we were working the horses this morning, it was important Ciaran Gethings had the chance to sit on Younevercall (with a view to riding at Cheltenham),” said Bailey

“I’m sitting on the fence at this moment in time with Vinndication. It will probably be the end of next week before we make a decision – as close as possible (to the meeting).

“He’s been schooling over fences and hurdles, and I really want to see where I am.

“My biggest problem with him is the last time he ran was at Newbury, and he unseated. Until he parted company with his jockey, he was jumping brilliantly and I need to have it in my own mind that he can do that again (to run in the Gold Cup).

“It’s a difficult one for everybody. I don’t want to say one way or t’other, and then change my mind.”

First Flow building towards Champion Chase

Kim Bailey is gradually building First Flow back to his peak for a crack at the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

The nine-year-old has had a relatively easy time since booking his place in the two-mile showpiece with last month’s victory over reigning champion Politologue in the Grade One Clarence House Chase at Ascot.

With the Champion Chase now less than five weeks away, Bailey is preparing First Flow for the big day.

“He’s good. He’s started cantering this week, so I’m happy with him,” said the Cotswolds trainer.

“I won’t be taking him for an away day. He’s an easy horse to get fit.”

First Flow is a top-priced 14-1 for Festival honours, with Chacun Pour Soi a shade of odds-on after extending his unbeaten season to date with an impressive victory in the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown on Sunday.

It was another eyecatching performance from Willie Mullins’ charge, for which he has rightly been lauded – but all Bailey and others can do is prepare their contenders for the challenge ahead.

Asked for his reading of Chacun Pour Soi’s latest win, Bailey said: “I don’t think I need add to the accolades people have given him.

“Getting our horse there in one piece is the most important thing.”

Monday Musings: Two Major Contenders from Left Field

At the age of 25 back in 1978 Kim Bailey took over the training licence from his father Ken at their family farm in Brackley, Northamptonshire, with the experience of having learnt his trade from three training greats, Humphrey Cottrill, Tim Forster and Fred Rimell, writes Tony Stafford. In 1995 he enjoyed the almost unthinkable achievement of winning both the Champion Hurdle, with the novice Alderbrook, and the Gold Cup with Master Oats.

Until Saturday they had been the only Grade 1 wins on his card. Now, 26 years later and in his 43rd year as a trainer, the still-boyish Bailey, greatly to his own surprise, can refer back to a wonderful performance by the nine-year-old, First Flow. After an end-to-end battle he emphatically saw off reigning Champion Two-Mile Chaser Politologue in Ascot’s Clarence House Chase.

Kim Bailey has, over the years, gone through a number of transformations and training locations as well as a major domestic upheaval and a Henry Cecil-like slump. That must have caused this consummate horseman to question whether he should continue to pursue his career.

Throughout, Bailey has always had the respect of his fellow professionals, even in the darkest days. The same was true of course for the future Sir Henry before the arrival of Frankel and the subsequent great loyalty – hardly surprising one might say – of Prince Khalid Abdullah. The recent passing of Prince Khalid could have significant implications for the future of many of the present-day’s leading Flat-race trainers.

Bailey’s own darkest years came in the first decade of the present century when in the four seasons between 2004 and 2008 he won respectively only six, six, nine and finally three races. Those three in 2007-8 came from 131 runs and produced earnings of a little over £29,000. Nowadays he characteristically has one of the higher strike rates, operating at close to 18%. Less than three per cent must have given him kittens!

The Racing Post statistics for each trainer includes a section at the bottom entitled Big Races Won. Between March 2002 and November 2012, a full decade, none of the Bailey winners qualified for entry in that section.

In more recent times, he has built up his business again at a modern farm in Andoversford, 15 minutes or so from Cheltenham. A great adherent to modern technology, he was moving around his snow-covered 70-strong yard on Sunday morning, reflecting by video on the previous afternoon’s exploits by one of three chasers that could be lining up in the top races at Prestbury Park in six weeks’ time.

As he progressed with his commentary, all the time he was sharing the credit, principally to David Bass, whose opportunist ride on First Flow he described as “one of the best rides I’ve ever seen”. Also earning his gratitude were various key members of his staff. If ever there was a benevolent boss, it is Kim Bailey, who stresses that any success achieved by Thornfield Farm is very much a team effort.

That attitude will undoubtedly bring loyalty from the staff and he certainly has managed to keep a number of owners, among them First Flow’s, Tony Solomons, with him over many years. “Tony was one of my first owners all those years ago and I’m so happy for him. First Flow was not an expensive buy and he’s done so well for us,” says Bailey.

He certainly has. Saturday’s win for First Flow was his sixth in succession and his tenth in all from only 16 races over obstacles. The race was worth a few bob short of £60k and represented a nice early birthday present for his owner.

Tony rarely has more than a couple of horses in training but the retired banker also had tremendous success in recent years with the staying Flat handicapper, Nearly Caught. That smart gelding, trained by Hughie Morrison, won nine races and was placed 15 times.

His last win, as an eight-year-old, came on his final appearance when he easily won a Newmarket Listed race from an official rating of 107. That was his fourth Listed win, to which he could add a Group 2 victory at Deauville as a six-year-old. All of his five stakes wins and eight places came in his final three seasons’ racing.

While Bailey had some sparse years where major races were concerned, that could not be said of 2020 when he earned seven entries in that category. First Flow is joined by Imperial Aura and Vinndication as fellow high-class performers and Bailey hopes all three will make it to the Festival.

He regards Vinndication as a potential Gold Cup candidate. The eight-year-old is still lightly-raced and although he has yet to win going left-handed, he ran a blinder when only two lengths behind Cyrname in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby when starting out the present campaign at the end of October.

Bailey aimed him at the Ladbroke (ex-Hennessy) Handicap Chase at Newbury the following month and the gelding was still very much in contention when unseating David Bass five fences out (his only non-completion) under a big weight. The trainer hopes he will be able to prepare him in time to participate.

Until Imperial Aura’s unexpected early exit from his Kempton Grade 2 target a couple of weeks back he had been carrying all before him, adding two nice wins to his Cheltenham Festival novice handicap chase victory in March. Another eight-year-old, like his two stablemates he also has an enviable win ratio, seven from 12.

Nothing succeeds like success. From the dark days Bailey has now put together seven highly rewarding seasons, all bar last term’s 32 (for obvious Covid) reasons bringing between 43 and 61 wins and at least £400k in earnings.

With £450,000 already this term and more than three months to go, he could even get close to the £696,000 of the extraordinary Master Oats/ Alderbrook campaign when he had 72 wins from 312 runs, especially if things work out at the Festival.

It is hard not to be excited by First Flow, but one other horse produced an even more eye-opening performance the same afternoon. The Venetia Williams-trained and Rich Ricci-owned Royale Pagaille turned the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock Park into a rout and must be followed over a cliff for the rest of the season and beyond.

This race has had a proud heritage since its inception in 1981, with its early winners including the three Cheltenham Gold Cup victors, Little Owl, Bregawn and The Thinker. Jodami made it four a decade later, while its best recent champion has been Bristol De Mai, also a three-time winner of the Grade 1 Betfair Chase over the same course and distance.

Royale Pagaille was bought as an experienced four-year-old by French agent Guy Petit out of the Francois Nicolle yard in November 2018 at Arcana for €70k. He had won one of ten starts, a minor hurdle race at Pau, although he did have plenty of experience over fences after that victory.

Sent To Venetia, it was more than a year before he saw a British racecourse and his two runs last season before racing was summarily curtailed were hardly  earth-shattering. First, in a two-runner Chepstow novice chase he found the 150-rated Vision Des Flos predictably too good, trailing home almost ten lengths behind. Then, in a three-runner chase at Huntingdon he was miles behind the lower-rated pair Equus Secretus (Ben Pauling) and Lies About Milan (Fergal O’Brien) who fought out a close finish over the near three-mile trip. Those performances gave little inkling of what was to come.

Hence when Royale Pagaille reappeared for this season at Haydock on December 2, the son of Blue Bresil was the 11/1 outsider in a four-runner novice chase over two miles and five furlongs. He confounded those odds, very easily coming from the back to draw clear of the Kim Bailey-trained favourite Espoir De Romay, who carried a 5lb winner’s penalty.

After that, on the second day of Kempton’s big Christmas meeting, his winning margin of just over three lengths might not have been extravagant, but the style of the victory off his revised mark of 140 was such that the chase handicapper raised him 16lb to 156.

At no stage on Saturday did it appear likely that Royale Pagaille would have any difficulty in defying his new mark, travelling and jumping with utter authority. Conceding 20lb to the proven staying handicappers Just Your Type and Potters Legend, he was already a long way clear of the pair at the last fence in the heavy ground and it seemed as though Tom Scudamore could have doubled the eventual victory margin of 16 lengths over Potters Legend had he wished.

That suggests to me the chase assessors will struggle to keep his new mark below 170 and at the present rate of progress, further improvement could easily be forthcoming. That already takes him right into the top echelon of chasers. For the record, in its 41-year history the Peter Marsh Chase has never been won by a horse younger than seven, Royale Pagaille’s age.

Bookmakers are quoting Royale Pagaille for four races at the Festival, but if he was mine I would find it difficult to disregard the big one. There are many instances of trainers thinking their emerging horses are not quite ready but with the number of pitfalls that can assail them, those delaying plans often prove fruitless with the horses never actually making it to a later Gold Cup. And this one already has eleven chase starts to his name, so is hardly an inexperienced novice.

I’m suggesting you take the 12-1 (unless you can get better) for the Blue Riband of the meeting.  If you prefer to be safe, he is 8-1 non-runner no bet.

First Flow magnificent in Clarence House victory

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.”

First Flow powered home
First Flow powered home (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

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.”

David Bass and First Flow were dominant at Ascot
David Bass and First Flow were dominant at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

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.”

Ascot option for First Flow

Kim Bailey is weighing up his options for prolific winner First Flow – which include the Clarence House Chase at Ascot.

The durable eight-year-old landed Wetherby’s Castleford Chase in typically game fashion on Sunday, never looking likely to win until close home.

That was a fifth win in a row, taking his record over fences to six successes from 10 starts and therefore fully deserving a step up in class.

“Bizarrely there are actually quite a few races suitable for him between now and the end of February,” said Bailey.

“There’s a handicap at Sandown, the Grade One at Ascot and there’s races at Newbury and Doncaster also – so there are three or four to consider.

“He loves heavy ground. But Wetherby was an extraordinary performance really – I doubt the ground has ever been as bad there, because (jockey) David Bass said it made Ffos Las look quite good!”

First Flow looked in trouble at various stages, but got the job done again in the end.

Bailey added: “It wasn’t great to watch, but it was a phenomenal performance – especially when you consider he was playing catch-up because the leader (Maracudja) got such a flying start.

“I thought that had been outlawed – if he’d won I might have complained!

“That’s five in a row he’s won, and he’s a complete freak.

“I’m so pleased for his owner Tony Solomons, because he’s been with me since my second season training, and the last horse he had with me was Harry Topper. He’s loving it.”

Defi Du Seuil won the race last year but disappointed on his seasonal bow
Defi Du Seuil won the race last year but disappointed on his seasonal bow (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

First Flow is one of 12 entries for the Matchbook Betting Exchange Clarence House Chase, with last year’s victor Defi Du Seuil in the mix to defend his title after pulling up on his seasonal return at Cheltenham in November.

Reigning champion chaser Politologue is one of two contenders for Paul Nicholls along with Duc Des Genievres, and Jessica Harrington is also potentially double-handed with Sizing Pottsie and Impact Factor.

Benatar, Bun Doran, Esprit Du Large, Fanion D’Estruval, Le Patriote and Riders Onthe Storm complete the list of contenders.

Flow shakes off ground concerns to come home First

First Flow cast aside ground fears and resumed his progression with a tenacious success in the Coral Hurst Park Handicap Chase.

Having rattled up a hat-trick over fences at the end of last term, the eight-year-old gelding picked up where he left off to complete doubles for Kim Bailey and David Bass.

Despite making plenty of mistakes throughout the two-mile-one-furlong prize, the 3-1 shot met the last on a good stride before knuckling down to defeat recent course scorer Amoola Gold by a neck.

Bailey said: “I’m staggered really. David Bass and I were trawling through the programme book half way through this afternoon to find somewhere else to go, as he wants heavy ground and (David) said he won’t be able to jump out of this. He just can’t jump at speed.

“How has he managed to win that, as he has jumped appallingly the whole way round and all he has done is stay. Quite honestly I didn’t think he had an earthly chance today, and neither did David Bass.

“I’m thrilled for his owner Tony Solomons. He is my longest serving owner – he has been with me every year, bar my second season – and he is just a fantastic man and deserves every winner he gets. I think the only fence he jumped properly was the last. It was horrendous to watch, but that’s him as he is an oddball.

“He has got no right to be as good as he is, but that is his fourth win on the trot. He is an extraordinary horse.”

Imperial Aura got the ball rolling for Bailey and Bass with victory in the Grade Two Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase.