Imperial Aura could bid to bounce back in King George

Imperial Aura, who fell when going well in Saturday’s Betfair Chase at Haydock, has suffered no ill effects, according to trainer Kim Bailey.

Having his first run since a wind operation, last season’s Grade Two winner was quietly fancied by the yard to gain a first success at the top level, but the trainer feels the eight-year-old will have more to come.

Bailey, speaking at Kempton Park on Monday, said: “He fell. What can I say? He is fine. I’ve no immediate idea of plans.

“We will see how he is, but hopefully he’ll be back here for the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day. It is all just very frustrating.”

The Imperial Racing-owned gelding was a winner at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival and returned to action in October last year with victories in the Colin Parker at Carlisle and Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase at Ascot, before unseating at Kempton in January.

His run at this year’s Festival saw him pulled up in the Ryanair Chase.

Imperial Aura set to take Betfair Chase challenge

Kim Bailey has put a line through the second half of last season for Imperial Aura and is anticipating a bold show in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday.

The eight-year-old began the last campaign with wins at Carlisle and Kempton, but things did not go to plan after Christmas.

He unseated David Bass at Kempton and was then pulled up at the Cheltenham Festival, where he ran in the Ryanair Chase.

A valid excuse emerged for that, however, and Bailey expects a better performance – although the likes A Plus Tard, Bristol De Mai and Champ await on Merseyside.

“At Cheltenham I’ve never seen horses go that fast in my life and he ended up breaking a blood vessel, probably from the stress of going that quick. But he jumped well at Cheltenham until he got tired,” said Bailey.

“He has had a breathing operation over the summer and seems in a really good place. I think you just have to walk away from the second half of last season.

“He has always been a horse that I felt would be better over a longer trip, though he is quite a quick horse. Going back up to three miles shouldn’t be a problem. It is a flat track at Haydock and I think the race will suit him.

“Is he good enough? God only knows, but at the end of it he is a very talented individual and he has got serious ability.

“I’m happy with him. I don’t know what the opposition will be like yet but I’m hopeful that he will run a big race.”

He added: “I very much like to think Imperial Aura will win a Grade One. Whether that is the Betfair Chase, I don’t know. I would be delighted if it is, but hopefully there would be one in him at some stage of his career.”

Vinndication retired

Kim Bailey has taken the decision to retire Vinndication after the eight-year-old was pulled up at Ascot.

Vinndication was sent off 100-30 favourite for Saturday’s London Gold Cup – but David Bass pulled him up quickly on jumping the fifth fence, and the vet reported he had lost both hind shoes and was lame behind.

Bailey has concluded, however, that a back operation in the summer has not had the desired effect and has therefore taken the difficult decision to call time on the prolific winner’s career at a young age.

“It is with great sadness that I have to announce that one of my favourite horses Vinndication has now retired,” Bailey wrote on

“Ascot on Saturday showed that he was not a happy horse, and David Bass rightly and quickly pulled him up when he felt he was wrong behind. On dismounting he was lame – and although he was sound yesterday morning, the poor chap is hurting.

“He has had back problems for a while, and an operation this summer has sadly not worked.

“Vinny might have shown all his old zest and wellbeing at home, but the race track is where it matters.

“I hate seeing old mates run poorly. But we have done all we can to help – and after much discussion with his owners, we have now taken the decision that he should have another life after his racing one, and one that he will enjoy.

“He has been an extraordinary horse. Aiden Murphy (bloodstock agent) and I bought him at Goffs for 28K – and although I know he has not had a huge mileage on the racecourse, he has won just under 50 per cent of his races.”

Vinndication won the first six races of his career – which included the Listed Sidney Banks Novices’ Hurdle at Huntingdon and a Grade Two Novices’ Chase at Ascot.

Vinndication back over fences for Ascot seasonal bow

Kim Bailey’s Vinndication will resume his career over fences when he contests the Grade Three Bateaux London Gold Cup Handicap Chase at Ascot on Saturday.

The eight-year-old won the same race in 2019 having made a successful step into the staying chase division, but he unseated his rider in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury last season and was then sent hurdling again for the latter end of the campaign.

A return to jumping fences is now imminent as the gelding makes his seasonal reappearance at Ascot, a track he is unbeaten round having won on all three of his starts there.

“He’s always run well at Ascot and I’m very happy with him,” Bailey said.

Kim Bailey's Vinndication
Kim Bailey’s Vinndication (Tim Goode/PA)

“He’s back over fences as he was running over hurdles for the second half of last season.

“He probably has better form at Ascot rather than anywhere else, which is my reason for going back there.”

Dan Skelton has two chances of claiming the three-mile contest, with veterans Captain Chaos and Bennys King both in the mix.

Both horses have Ascot form, as the 10-year-old Captain Chaos was victorious in the Listed Swinley Chase last season and Bennys King has never been unplaced in four career starts there.

“The pair of them are very similar,” Skelton said.

“They are a bit older at 10 years old and historically they have always needed a run or two in their season to get going.

“I don’t see this being any different, the only thing is Bennys King is very good round Ascot and so is Captain Chaos, and he has got no weight, so that gives them a little each-way chance.

Captain Chaos winning the Swinley Chase
Captain Chaos winning the Swinley Chase (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I’m presuming they will improve an awful lot for the run because they normally do in the season.”

Regal Encore, the winner of the race last year, will line up again for Anthony Honeyball and Tom Lacey’s Johnbb is also entered after placing in Grade Three company last season.

Skelton also has a chance in the the Byrne Group Handicap Chase, with Amoola Gold the mount of Bridget Andrews.

The gelding won the Listed Handicap Chase at the track last term and was narrowly beaten in the Hurst Park Handicap Chase, though at 146 he is now rated significantly higher than he was at the time of those two performances.

“I think he’s got a nice chance, he’s good around the track,” said Skelton.

“He’s got a higher mark than he did last year but that’s what we’ve got to live with. I’ll certainly give him a chance.”

Bailey is represented through One For Rosie, who is making his seasonal bow.

One For Rosie
One For Rosie (centre)

The grey switched from Nigel Twiston-Davies’ yard to Bailey’s in February and subsequently went chasing, winning twice in two-mile novice events to tally a thus-far unbeaten record over fences.

“It’s probably a fraction too short, two miles, but it’s very hard to find races for him,” Bailey said.

“We did think about going to Wetherby, but we were slightly worried about the Wetherby ground. They’ve had rain at Ascot last week so the ground looked better.

“It was either Ascot or Exeter, it’s a big step up from what he was running in last season.”

Elsewhere in the race Gary Moore’s Editeur Du Gite looks to pick up where he left off last season and claim a third consecutive win, with Honeyball’s Sully D’Oc also back in action after ending his campaign in good form in April.

Ajero is another Ascot runner for Bailey
Ajero is another Ascot runner for Bailey (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Ajero will represent Bailey in the Listed Bateaux London Handicap Hurdle on the same Ascot card, with the gelding last seen finishing seventh in the Grade One Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in April following a four-race unbeaten run.

“He’s matured and grown a bit over the summer,” the trainer said.

“He’s in a very good place, I’m very happy with him, but equally I think he will improve for the run.

“He’s been pleasing us at home anyway.”

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.”

A Racing “Guess Who”

When people have been around the racing game for a while, especially when they haven’t had the good fortune to crack it in the way of a Henderson or an Aidan O’Brien, a good way of teasing out their identity is to offer snippets from their lifetime, writes Tony Stafford.

We all know about Mr Frisk, the Kim Bailey-trained Grand National winner ridden by the amateur Marcus Armytage, son of trainer Roddy and brother to the first female Hennessy Gold Cup winning rider Gee, later Tony McCoy’s secretary.

Marcus was subsequently a colleague of mine at the Daily Telegraph – indeed he is still there. But our mystery man beat the youthful Old Etonian to it, winning five chases in a row, and unbeaten in six on the gelding in an invincible season as a novice, at one point telling an interviewing journalist that he and Mr Frisk would win the Grand National. Events would subsequently conspire for the combination of horse and jockey to be broken through no fault of our rider.

Next clue, born and bred in West Ham, East London, he went to the same school as did - a good few years earlier of course - Michael Tabor and the late and much-loved David Johnson, owner of all those wonderful jumpers with Martin Pipe. Our hero’s father Norman, youngest of a family of 13 after serving with distinction in the army, joined the Daily Telegraph as a printer.

In the days of hot metal linotype he and his many skilled colleagues would stand one side of the “stone”, the flat piece of the print room’s furniture along which the individual pages would be laid out and constructed. He would help the sub-editor – very often me on the racing pages – standing on the other side to fit it all in from my upside-down, back-to-front perspective. My job was assisted by having paper printers’ single long “takes” of the individual stories and racing cards which had to be cut to length – rather different nowadays with instant editing for all, not least without all the sensitivities of not crossing other unions’ demarcation lines.

Knowing what and how much to cut was the key but a good stone man on the other side made it easy and Norman knew his stuff all right. I loved those days and can still read newspapers upside down – maybe not the most helpful attribute these days, rather like knowing Latin declensions and conjugations!

A bit sketchy so far, well how about this? At 6ft 2 1/2inches he was the tallest jump jockey of his time. One season he broke his right collarbone nine times; it was only when ironically riding Bailey’s Just For The Crack at Newbury that both went in the same fall.

After retiring from race riding in the mid-1990’s he would not begin training in his own right for a few years, instead working as Norman Mason’s assistant – the assistant to the amusement machine magnate from the North-East was in effect the trainer.

Mason also had a Grand National winner, but Red Marauder’s success in 2001 when one of only four finishers happened after the mystery man’s departure having overseen his novice win. He was already setting up his own stable by then. What has defined him in the intervening two decades has been his extreme patience waiting, it seems, forever to land a touch for his owner, then carrying it off with certainty.

If you haven’t got it yet you never will so here we go - say hello to Alan Jones. From West Ham to the West Country via Northumberland has been a stretch. He still stands just as tall and with a season-best of ten a while ago and more likely four or five every term from his ten-strong string of individually and minutely prepared jumpers, he keeps the show going for his owners.

One of them enjoyed such a winning punt on his veteran horse Tiquer in the winter of 2017-18 that he decided to invest at a higher level. “He won 140 grand”, recalls Alan, “so decided to go to Goff’s in Ireland that October to look for a smart yearling. He had been using an agent but he thought his fees excessive, so he asked me to go along and find a nice filly for around 100-110k”, recalls Alan.

“We started with a dozen but boiled it down and eventually settled on a Camelot filly. To my surprise we got her for €100,000. The wind came out of my sails a bit when the owner sent her to Richard Hannon, but she was from a major Coolmore source, consigned by Timmy Hyde’s Camas Park stud, so you would have expected her to go to a big Flat yard. In any case, he is my biggest owner so you’d want to keep him happy.

“Of course, I kept my ear to the ground, listening for news on how she was doing at Hannon’s. It seemed she didn’t make the expected progress and it was as much an economy measure as anything else when I was asked to take her for the winter as a two-year-old”, said Jones. The next season as a three-year-old soundness was again an issue with her so it was back again to Mr Jones for some more rest and recuperation.

Ironically, recalls Jones, it was just when he detected the filly was starting to shape up that the owner nearly brought the project to an untimely end. “She was improving every day and then suddenly there was a potential buyer wanting to send her to stud unraced. I told the owner I thought we could still do something with her and luckily he finally agreed.”

Thus on Sunday, prepared on the same type of hill up which Martin Pipe, who in Jones’s estimation, completely changed the science of training racehorses, Lady Excalibur was finally ready to go.

The chosen target, a bumper at Stratford last Sunday, came along 1,021 days after Alan Jones signed the docket to re-invest that big chunk of his owner’s massive touch. After the event he reckoned “she’s not quick” but if you watch the video of where she is turning for home and where she is at the finish with Tom O’Brien sitting pretty you might have another opinion. The world is her oyster and whatever she does on the track she will always have a value as a potential broodmare.

As Tom told him afterwards, “You are just like my Uncle Aidan, you can perform miracles. This one certainly is”. Praise indeed, but when your stable is limited to a handful of animals, candidates for such miracles come along only rarely. In 60-year-old Alan Jones’ case 1,021 days from purchase to payoff is a bit of a sprint!

- TS

Bailey asserts trainers and owners should take lead in care of retired horses

Kim Bailey insists it is the responsibility of his fellow trainers, and owners, to ensure ex-racehorses are properly cared for throughout their lives.

Bailey, who has trained the winners of all the top National Hunt races in a career stretching over more than 30 years, described the covert footage of abattoirs broadcast by the BBC’s Panorama programme as “horrific” and “horrendous”.

He stressed too, however, that it is incumbent on those who own and look after horses in their racing years to do all they can to help provide a safe and comfortable home for them afterwards.

Monday night’s Panorama documentary broadcast scenes of horses about to be euthanised at an abattoir in Swindon – reporting many had arrived there after gruelling and inhumane transportation from Ireland.

The British Horseracing Authority has responded by calling urgent meetings to discuss the troubling issues with industry leaders, including the independently-chaired Horse Welfare Board, and their counterparts at Horse Racing Ireland.

Bailey told Sky Sports Racing: “You can keep re-funding and adding more funds as long as you want to – but the end product is it is up to the trainers, I believe, to make sure the horses they have in their own care find a home afterwards whereby they can be looked after and treasured for the rest of their lives.

“I think it’s something trainers need to point out to owners that, when they get involved in racing, they are as responsible as we are to make sure those horses – when they leave racing – have a future.

“You just can’t get involved in a horse and say ‘well, actually it’s stopped racing now – I want to get rid of it’.

“They’ve got to hold on to responsibility themselves. It’s a dual responsibility, from the trainers’ point of view and the owners’ to make sure we look after where horses go after racing.”

Also crucial, Bailey believes, is the administrative infrastructure which allows the movement of ex-racehorses to be properly tracked.

Kim Bailey (left) with Harry Topper after his victory in the 2014 Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury
Kim Bailey (left) with Harry Topper after his victory in the 2014 Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“I think it’s incredibly important,” he said.

“We pass on horses on a regular basis – I think we’ve moved on about 20 this summer.

“We interview the people who are taking the horse on, (and) we get references from the people who are having them.

“They have to keep in touch with me during the entire time they have the horse. If at any stage during that period they find they can’t cope, for financial reasons or they find the horse is not suitable for them, the horse has to come back here – and then we can try again.”

One such horse was Bailey’s former Grade Two-winning chaser Harry Topper.

He added: “Harry Topper – who was a very good horse for me some years ago – we rehomed him three times.

“The third time, we found the ideal home for him in Ireland with a person who used to look after him when she was here.

“They go from here with a view that, if it doesn’t work out, they have to come back – so they can’t disappear.”

Enhanced governance by racing authorities can only help further.

“You can certainly push on the governing situation,” said Bailey.

“They have a microchip – horses are, like a human, (in that) they have a passport. They are there to see if we can trace where they’ve gone to.

“How far do you go to regulate the situation?

“There are always going to be (cases) whereby horses do not end up in the ideal home – and a decision has to be made as to what happens to that horse.

“But it should be a joint decision between the owner and trainer as to what you do next.”

Bailey was especially concerned by Panorama’s reports that many horses – including former top chaser Vyta Du Roc – had to endure transportation from Ireland to the abattoir in Swindon.

“I thought that was probably the most horrific part of the whole programme,” he said.

“I’m sure Ireland have their own abattoirs – (so) I cannot understand why horses had to be dragged from Ireland to Swindon. It made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.

“I think that’s one area we need to really push to find out why that happens – because (the horse) should never have been in the situation it was, to go from one country to the next.”

Panorama’s abattoir has caused great consternation – as have claims that contaminated horse meat found its way into the human food chain via fraudulent practice.

The Food Standards Agency, which regulates abattoirs, responded in a statement which read: “Upholding animal welfare and the safety and authenticity of the food we eat is a top priority for Government.

“The Food Standards Agency and Defra work closely with food businesses and slaughterhouses to ensure that animal welfare is maintained at all stages of food production and that all our food is correctly labelled and safe to eat.

“The FSA has asked Panorama to supply the footage that has been obtained during this investigation. If there is any evidence of mistreatment of animals, they will take action and investigate thoroughly.”

Bailey added: “The programme showed racing in a bad light, but it also showed the abattoir world is in a far worse place than we are.

“Their welfare regulations are obviously not as stringent as they rather hoped they are.

“To see what we saw last night – which was nothing to do with racing – is just awful, and you have to work on the theory that the abattoirs need to get themselves under control, because what they showed us last night was just horrific.

David Menuisier agrees with his fellow trainer Kim Bailey about the responsibility of care provided to ex-racehorses
David Menuisier agrees with his fellow trainer Kim Bailey about the responsibility of care provided to ex-racehorses (PA)

“Anybody who has to watch those sort of scenes, it’s horrendous to see.”

Flat trainer David Menuisier underlined his belief too that trainers owe a debt to their former charges when their racing days are over.

He said: “I think the pictures we saw last night were absolutely disgusting.

“People who are in the sport are basically there because they love horses, they are animal lovers – and what we saw last night (in the abattoir footage) was just atrocious.

“I’m trying to rehome a horse now who I’ve cared for three or four years. I’ve had a few phone calls, but I want to meet the people and make sure they are right for him before anything is agreed.

“I think we possibly need to look at better traceability for horses after they leave racing, but many horses do go on to have a happy retirement.

“We are nothing without them, and we owe it to them to make sure they have happy lives. We need to make sure from A to Z, like humans, they are cared for and treated well.”

Select repeat at Sandown for Younevercall

Younevercall repeated his victory of two years ago in the bet365 Select Hurdle at Sandown, in a race of changing fortunes.

Kim Bailey’s 10-year-old landed the last renewal of the race in 2019 and having shown some solid form this season, headed the market at 5-2.

It was far from a straightforward victory, however, as Call Me Lord, On The Blind Side and Indefatigable all looked likely at one stage or another.

Younevercall usually likes to make all, but while he was headed at various stages on this occasion he never dropped out of contention.

On The Blind Side was the first one to crack and then when Call Me Lord made a hash of two from home his chance was gone.

David Bass resisted in throwing everything at Younevercall until after the last and he saw the trip out really well to beat Indefatigable by half a length.

Bass said: “This race was the perfect one for him because even though he’d won it, that was two years ago and he didn’t have to carry a penalty so he was well-in at the weights.

“He likes to be fresh and I thought he looked amazing in the parade ring.

“The race didn’t always go as I’d hoped, but he really thrives on a right-handed track and saw it out well.”

Bailey sets Two For Gold Topham test

Kim Bailey already has next year’s Grand National in mind for Two For Gold as he gives the eight-year-old a first taste of the famous fences in the Randox Topham Handicap Chase at Aintree.

Two For Gold has had a good second season over fences – beating Aso at Warwick in February before finishing third to Grand National favourite Cloth Cap at Kelso last month, with other big-race hopefuls Definitly Red and Lake View Lad behind him.

“The owners are very keen, as we are, to see him over the National fences,” said Bailey.

“We think he’s going to be a Grand National horse in a year’s time, so this is a good place for him to learn, and we’ll see how he gets on.

“It’ll be an interesting race, as it always is.”

The likely favourite on Friday is the Willie Mullins-trained Livelovelaugh, who will be ridden by the trainer’s son Patrick.

The 11-year-old, who finished 11th in the 2019 Grand National, has been running well in defeat this season – but has not managed to get his head in front in more than three years.

Mullins said: “I was actually angling to try and get Livelovelaugh to go for the Foxhunters’ this year, because he hasn’t won for a few years, but they decided to keep him going in normal racing.

“He’s been running very consistently. He’s an 11-year-old with 11 stone, so I don’t think the stats say he has as good a chance as the betting does.

“But he jumped fantastically for David Mullins in the National a couple of years ago when he didn’t stay, and the trip will suit and the ground will suit.

“I think he should give me a great spin.”

Willie Mullins also saddles Robin Des Foret, of whom Mullins junior added: “He’s a similar type of horse – he likes good ground, he’s a good jumper and a strong traveller.

“He needed his run back in Clonmel. He’s got plenty of weight, but the race will suit.”

Kauto Riko, last seen finishing fourth in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham in November, is set to take his chance in the Topham because he is only third reserve for the Grand National on Saturday.

The 10-year-old’s trainer Tom Gretton said: “We were hoping he’d get in the National, but I think we’re struggling.

“He runs best fresh. He ran well at Cheltenham in November, and if he could run like that it would be ideal.

“He was going to run in January at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day and/or Trials Day. They were both lost to the weather, then I didn’t want to run before Cheltenham or Aintree, and we decided on Aintree.

“He had a racecourse gallop and had a school over over Aintree-style fences twice this week.”

Alex Hales has had this race as the objective for Huntsman Son since the start of the season – and was pleased with his run at the Cheltenham Festival when he was sixth in the Paddy Power Plate.

“This has sort of been our plan all year,” said the Northamptonshire trainer.

“We wanted to run him in the Grand Sefton, and the ground went against us.

“I thought he ran very well at Cheltenham. Touch wood, he’s a very good jumper, and I think this race is made for him really.

“He’s got a lovely weight (11st), and I thought he was quite a big price, to be honest.”

The spring is Snugsborough Hall’s time of the year, and Liam Cusack is looking forward to giving the 10-year-old an opportunity over the National fences – with top Irish amateur Derek O’Connor in the saddle.

“He’s in good form, he’s a spring horse and it will be nice ground,” said the County Laois trainer.

“It’s his first time over those fences, but he jumps well.

“We’ve got Derek O’Connor. He’s a top man and has plenty of experience over those fences.

“We’re hoping he runs a nice race and comes back in one piece.”

Henderson expects trip to suit Chantry House

Nicky Henderson is confident the step up in trip can bring the best out of Chantry House the Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree.

The JP McManus-owned seven-year-old caused a minor upset when landing the two-and-a-half-mile Marsh Novices’ Chase at last month’s Cheltenham Festival, with red-hot favourite Envoi Allen making it no further than the fourth fence.

Chantry House steps up to three miles and a furlong in his bid to double his Grade One tally on Merseyside on Friday, with his trainer expecting to have a clearer idea of potential targets for next season afterwards.

Henderson said: “When they set off down the back straight at Cheltenham, Shan Blue suddenly injected a lot of pace into the race – and to be fair, it looked as if Chantry House was nearly out of his comfort zone for a while.

“They had gone very hard, and he soon got back into it and won really nicely, but it did look as if he was crying out for three miles.

“I think this is a good time to try it. We know he stays two-and-a-half really well – and if we try three now, at least we’ll know where to go next season.”

Colin Tizzard fires a formidable twin assault, with stablemates Fiddlerontheroof and The Big Breakaway renewing rivalry after finishing second and third behind Monkfish in Cheltenham’s Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

Other contenders include Dan Skelton’s Shan Blue and Espoir De Romay from Kim Bailey’s yard.

Espoir De Romay on his way to victory at Leicester
Espoir De Romay on his way to victory at Leicester (David Davies/PA)

The latter faces a step up in class following an impressive handicap success at Leicester last month.

Bailey said: “The handicapper has put him of 15lb for winning at Leicester, which I think is absolutely crazy.

“I hope the handicapper is right – because if he is, we’re only 4lb behind Chantry House.

“I don’t know whether we are or not, but we won’t know until we run.”

The first of four Grade Ones on day two of the Grand National meeting is the Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle, which stages the return of Henderson’s Dusart.

The six-year-old got the better of the high-class Soaring Glory on his hurdling debut at Newbury in November, but has not been seen in competitive action since.

“Dusart was very impressive at Newbury,” said Henderson.

“He then had a freak accident and has been missing since. I actually didn’t think we’d get him back at all this season.

“He’s a smart horse, I hope.”

His nine rivals include Peter Fahey’s County Hurdle winner Belfast Banter, the Alex Hales-trained Supreme Novices’ Hurdle third For Pleasure and Bailey’s Ajero – who has won his last four races.

Alex Hales has high hopes for For Pleasure
Alex Hales has high hopes for For Pleasure (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Hales said of For Pleasure: “We think Aintree should suit him – a big, flat, left-handed and slightly sharper track.

“We’ve been looking forward to this race all year, to be honest. He ran above expectations at Cheltenham, and we couldn’t be happier with him going into Aintree.”

Bailey is keeping his fingers crossed for a bold showing from Ajero, but is wary of the threat posed by the Henderson runner.

He said: “I have to say I was hugely impressed with Dusart at Newbury – I think he’ll take an awful lot of beating.

“I hope our horse will run well. He’s in good form.”

Bravemansgame will be a hot favourite for the Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle.

Third behind the hugely impressive Bob Olinger in the Ballymore at Cheltenham, the Challow Hurdle winner is stepped up to three miles for the first time since his success in an Irish point-to-point two years ago.

Nicholls told Betfair: “He won a point-to-point as a four-year-old over three miles and was staying on stoutly when successful in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury, so I don’t have any concerns about the step up in trip for him on this drying ground.

“It’s in the back of my mind that he had a very hard race at Cheltenham – but he seems fine at home, and the only way you find out is by running them. On all his form this season, he has a decent chance.”

Streets Of Doyen is an interesting contender
Streets Of Doyen is an interesting contender (David Davies/PA)

Two of the biggest threats to Bravemansgame hail from Ireland, as Emmet Mullins and Rachael Blackmore team up with Cape Gentleman and John McConnell saddles Albert Bartlett third Streets Of Doyen.

McConnell feels the drying ground at Aintree will be in Streets Of Doyen’s favour.

“We’re really looking forward to that,” said the County Meath trainer.

“He’s in great nick. The drying ground will suit him a lot, more so than in Cheltenham. The ground there was probably too sticky for him.

“It’s a competitive race, but I expect him to go well.”

Java victory provides Aintree Pointer for Bailey

Java Point armed Kim Bailey with a good omen for Aintree by posting a stylish first success under rules in the Join Racing TV Now Maiden Hurdle at Warwick.

Bailey has a team of around half-a-dozen heading to Merseyside next week, with the possibility of exciting hurdler Ajero among them – although his target is yet to be confirmed.

Java Point endorsed the well-being of his trainer’s team as – in the colours also carried by Singlefarmpayment to victory on Sunday at Ascot – the 5-4 favourite kept on too strongly for market rival Known to score by a length and three-quarters under Jonathan Burke.

Bailey said: “We’ve been waiting for the better ground all winter with this horse – he’s an embryonic chaser.

“He was very fresh at Newbury when Nico de Boinville thought we were running over the wrong trip.

“But we knew that, and the form has worked out – and now we have options, one of which is to run him at the start of next season in a novice chase in May.”

Talking about his contenders for the Grand National meeting, Bailey added: “Espoir De Romay, Happygolucky, Two For Gold, Vinndication and possibly Ajero will go there.

“Ajero could go instead for the Scottish Champion Hurdle – off a mark of 140 his handicap days might not quite be over, let’s see.”

Burke, who is on the 40 winner mark for the season and has bettered his previous best by two, said: “He jumps well and is a straightforward, honest horse with the attributes to become a very good staying chaser.

“It’s good to have surpassed my previous best number, and I’d love to get to 50 by the end of the season.”

Champagne City gave owner Roger Brookhouse and trainer Tom George a third winner in less than a week when springing a 20-1 surprise under Ciaran Gethings in the Happy 21st Birthday Tia Harrison Handicap Hurdle.

The previously out-of-form winner took advantage of the fall of Givepeaceachance two out to come home four lengths clear of Clemento.

Gethings said: “He’s a bit of a monkey, but one with a lot of natural ability. He benefited from being dropped back on nicer ground.”

The Every Race Live On Racing TV Novices’ Handicap Hurdle went to Pour Une Raison, who reacted positively to the fitting of a visor for trainer Nick Mitchell and jockey Tom Bellamy.

“There’s been a transformation with the visor,” said Bellamy.

“He travelled and didn’t hit a flat spot. He didn’t miss a beat in the jumping department, and was super.”

Caid Du Berlais completed what was effectively a lap of honour in the Air Wedding Open Hunters’ Chase.

The 1-8 chance led throughout under Will Biddick to come home 44 lengths clear of Bishops Road.

Black Poppy, trained by Kerry Lee, provided a 25-1 upset in division one of the Maiden Open National Hunt Flat Race, resisting Party Business by a length-and-a-half – with the odds-on Blairgowrie only third.

Winning jockey Brendan Powell said: “I tracked the favourite and was always travelling well. I think he wouldn’t want either very soft or quick ground, and has a bit of filling out to do.”

There was another minor upset in the second division too when Sidewaysinmilan (11-1) ran on too strongly for 2-1 favourite Mexican Boy – for the Rosemary Gasson and Ben Poste trainer-jockey combination.

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.”

Flirtatious Girl powers home for Sandown Listed gold

Kim Bailey appears to hold a strong hand ahead of next week’s Cheltenham Festival and advertised the yard’s good form when Flirtatious Girl landed a cracking renewal of the Listed British Stallion Studs EBF Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.

The going on the Sandown hurdles course was described as soft, heavy in places and was all the more testing after the preceding Imperial Cup.

But Flirtatious Girl, who had been beaten when taking a while to settle at Huntingdon on her second start, looked much more professional this time and sauntered to a two-and-a-quarter-length success over Speech Bubble, with Tweed Skirt a further three and three-quarter lengths back in third.

Bailey said: “She has improved since her last run in December. She is a really good mare and she is so tough.

“I was slightly concerned that the ground might have been too soft for her. She really is unbelievably tough, so to go and do what she did was great. She is not very big, but at the end of the day, she’s done it now.

“She won a Listed race and she’s been placed in Listed company and if she never runs again, she’s worth her weight.

“She is very different to my other winner of the race, Molly’s A Diva (2013), who was a big tank of a horse and as slow as a hearse. This little, tiny thing in comparison is quite quick, but both loved soft ground and hopefully she will go on to better things.”

Bailey’s Festival team is headed by First Flow in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase and Vinndication in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle and he added: “I had a really good morning, watching the Cheltenham prospects on the gallops and I’m really looking forward to it.”

The conditions, testing as they were, got worse ahead of the Listed Paddy’s Rewards Club Novices’ Handicap Chase, which was run in a cloud-burst.

The torrential downpour did not hurt the chances of the mud-loving Farinet (13-2), who got off the mark over fences with a gutsy display to overhaul Up The Straight after both had made blunders late on.

Winning rider Charlie Deutsch said: “After the last time I rode him at Haydock, I thought this lad would stay really well and I think he’d get three miles.

“I wanted it to be a test, but coming into the last, which I missed, the horse in front had stopped a bit. But to be fair to him, he was very tough to be able to pick up again and run to the line like he did. He’s a very good horse.”

The Gary Moore yard have their sights firmly fixed on the future with Hudson de Grugy (4-5 favourite), who took apart a sparse field in the Paddy’s Giving Away £1 Million Today Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

The four-year-old made light work of his three rivals to come home 17 lengths clear of Global Agreement in the four-runner contest, despite making a complete hash of the third last.

Winning rider Joshua Moore said: “I saw the wood come flying past me three out!

“But he really does keep on galloping and he’s a big, strong horse who has plenty of scope.

“He has not been the most natural hurdler in his early days, but he is getting a lot better and the first time around here (last time) he was a bit novicey and it cost him the race. He does need a galloping track, which suits him very well.

“I would say he is more of a future chaser. A fence would help him to back off a bit. He’s a big strong, horse and next year we will have to feel our way with him and pick our races carefully and keep him in mind for the following season. He wouldn’t want any jar in the ground and would prefer the ground on the soft side of good.”

Richard Johnson rarely comes away from Sandown without having a winner and this card was no exception, as Fortescue (8-1) made the most of the taxing ground to overhaul the front-running Debece and claim the fourth chase win of his career in the ‘From The Horse’s Mouth’ Podcast Handicap Chase.

Johnson said: “If anything, I was almost in top gear around the first circuit. He is one of those horses who benefit from these conditions today. I’m sure, in the future, there will be some nice staying chases to go for.

“There are one or two options for him maybe later in the year, but it largely depends on the ground. Perhaps races like the Welsh National or extremes of trip is where is future lies.”

Five Star Getaway (11-8 favourite) was arguably the most impressive winner of the afternoon, landing the concluding ‘Paddy Power ‘3 Sleeps To Cheltenham’ Handicap Chase in the hands of Nick Schofield.

The seven-year-old, who raced off bottom weight, was always travelling well and his rider was looking over his shoulder after the last on his way to a five-and-a-half-length victory.

Trainer Christian Williams said: “He’d have probably won with 14st on his back today! We have always thought a lot of him.

“We have tried to avoid running in the worst of the ground over the winter, but felt it would pay dividends today. It looks like he’s handled soft ground, but we were not sure.

“He will probably have his last run of the season in the final of this race at Haydock (April 3).”

Festival beat suits drummer turned jockey Bass

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.

Bass has struck up a great partnership with Kim Bailey
Bass has struck up a great partnership with Kim Bailey (Simon Cooper/PA)

“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.

Imperial Aura and David Bass were successful at the Festival 12 months ago
Imperial Aura and David Bass were successful at the Festival 12 months ago (Simon Cooper/PA)

“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.

Vinndication will be back over hurdles next week
Vinndication will be back over hurdles next week (Tim Goode/PA)

“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.”

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.”