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.

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“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.”

Market Rasen strike completes Ajero hat-trick

Ajero sealed a hat-trick of victories when taking the MansionBet’s Faller Insurance Handicap Hurdle at Market Rasen.

The Kim Bailey-trained gelding began his winning streak at Ludlow in October, following up with a success at Kempton in November before collecting the third leg of his treble as 7-2 co-favourite under David Bass.

The gelding took up the lead with three flights left to negotiate and held on to record a two-length success, despite hanging slightly right as the line approached.

“He really picked up well down to the second last, it’s tiring old ground and he’s done really well to keep going,” said Bass.

“He did just lean to the right, to the rail, when he came under pressure, so I think for the time being we’ll just stick to these right-handed tracks.

“He’s a pleasure to ride and he’s got loads of gears, I’m really pleased with him.”

Ajero is half-brother to high-class chaser Charbel, with Bass reporting that the six-year-old is even faster than his older sibling.

“He’s smaller than him, but he’s actually quicker than Charbel was and Charbel was a quick horse,” he said.

“At home he has to do everything on his own as he’s just too quick for anything else.”

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Oliver Greenall’s Homme Public went one better than his recent second at Catterick to claim the MansionBet At Market Rasen Juvenile Maiden Hurdle by a comfortable six and a half lengths under Henry Brooke.

The four-year-old joined Greenall’s stable after beginning his career under the care of French trainer Francois Nicolle, taking the runner-up spot on his British debut when contesting a similar juvenile hurdle event.

This time the gelding was not for beating, taking up the lead with two flights left to jump and readily pulling clear of second placed Gilbertina to triumph as 11-8 favourite.

“On that ground I think he needed the run slightly, inexperience probably got him beat at Catterick,” Greenall said.

“He’s more experienced today and he settled. He’s one of those horses that only ever does enough, he’s a very laid back sort of horse.”

The French-bred holds an entry for Cheltenham’s Triumph Hurdle, but Greenall feels he may still be too inexperienced to take his chance in that Grade One event.

“He’s done it nicely enough today, but what he’s beaten is hard to say,” he said.

“It’s a possibility, Cheltenham could actually suit him, but I think he needs to travel a bit better.

“I don’t know if he’s hardened enough for Cheltenham, we’ll see, we’ve got the option there.”

Martello Sky remains unbeaten over hurdles after taking the MansionBet’s Best Odds Guaranteed EBF Mares’ “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle for Lucy Wadham and Aidan Coleman.

The grey filly won on her debut over obstacles when taking a mares’ maiden contest at Fakenham in December, having previously won two bumpers at the same track, and backed up that performance with a one-and-a-quarter-length victory over Marada when starting as 6-4 favourite.

“She’s always been on our radar as a nice, above average filly,” Coleman said of the five-year-old.

“Size and scope-wise you wouldn’t think Fakenham would suit her, but you run where suits and the prize money at Fakenham is good, it’s close to Lucy, so why not run there?

“She’d go anywhere though, you could run her anywhere – up, down, left or right, it doesn’t really matter.

“She’s won well, it takes a bit of doing, but she’s a nice filly.”

Blarney Bateleur took full advantage of her generous handicap mark to take the MansionBet’s Watch And Bet Mares’ Handicap Hurdle at 28-1 for trainer Andy Irvine and jockey Niall Houlihan.

The eight-year-old was rated 93 after three performances under rules, leaving her bottom of the handicap.

“I thought today the grade might be a little too high, but I thought off 10st 1lb, mares only and with the ground up here suiting her, it’d be worth giving it a go,” said Irvine.

The performance marked Blarney Bateleur’s first run under Irvine’s name, with the mare previously trained by his late wife Zoe Davison, who died after a lengthy battle with cancer in January.

“Each day is difficult, I wake up and my wife’s not there,” Irvine said.

“We’re keeping the show on the road, as we keep saying.

“We left at quarter to six this morning, it took us four, nearly five, hours to get here and just for that it’s been worth it.

“We’d do it every day of the week for this.”

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.

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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)
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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.”

Bailey in race against time for Gold Cup hope Vinndication

Kim Bailey is convinced Vinndication is a “Gold Cup horse” – but he is also about to give his classy chaser an alternative Cheltenham Festival entry in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle.

History is in danger of repeating itself for Vinndication this winter because, just as last year, an injury setback means time may run out for a prep run before March.

At Cheltenham in 2020, he put up a mighty effort under top weight in the Ultima Handicap Chase as he failed by less than three lengths to defy his four-month absence before the Festival.

This time, Vinndication injured himself again when unseating in a prominent position – once more under a welter burden – in November’s Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury.

Bailey has not given up hope of finding another race for him before mid-March but has already decided he will not be ready in time to test his course-and-distance credentials in the Cotswold Chase at the end of this month.

“To this day I don’t know what happened in the Ladbroke – but anyway, he parted company with his jockey,” he said.

“He banged the inside of his near-hind joint, which he was very sore on for a few days.

“Although he’s 100% sound, he spent time on Jason Maguire’s horse treadmill to try to help him.

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“He’ll come back in time. The Gold Cup entry is very much there for the simple reason that I think he’s a Gold Cup horse.”

Bailey, a Gold Cup-winning trainer with Master Oats back in 1995 and who also briefly housed 1997 hero Mr Mulligan early in that horse’s career, is in no doubt the best is yet to be seen of Vinndication.

“He needs to go and have a run (before a Gold Cup),” he added.

“If he had completed the race at Newbury and gone and won, he’d be a very laudable favourite, or bang there for the race.

“(Jockey) David (Bass) is convinced he would have won, but it’s very easy to say that. Even if we’d have finished second to him (impressive winner Cloth Cap), we’d have run a great race, giving him all that weight.”

Entries for the Stayers’ Hurdle close on Wednesday, and Vinndication’s name is set to be among them – even though he has not run over timber since completing his unbeaten novice campaign with a third successive victory almost three years ago.

“He’s still a good hurdler,” said the Cotswolds trainer.

“So, from the owner’s point of view, what races have we got in mind for him? If I can’t get a prep race into him for the Gold Cup – which I’d like to have – I do have the option of the Stayers’ Hurdle.”

Asked if he has yet reached his full potential, Bailey said: “No. He’s had very little racing. He’s only run 12 times.”

His next will not be at Cheltenham’s Festival Trials day, however, because time is too short.

“No, definitely not,” said Bailey.

“Unfortunately, it could easily be (like last year).

“It is such a difficult situation. Do I go back the handicap route, do I go for the Gold Cup? It will have to work itself out.”

Vinndication will not be joined by stablemate Younevercall if he does take up the Stayers’ Hurdle option.

The latter was pulled up behind impressive winner McFabulous in the re-scheduled Relkeel Hurdle at Kempton on Saturday – and will have an extended break before returning to defend his Sandown crown at the end of April in the Grade Two hurdle he won when it was last run two years ago.

Reflecting on Kempton, Bailey said: “He’s 10 years old, and there are very few races for him.

“The owners were very keen (to run at the weekend), and there was no reason to say the horse shouldn’t run.

“But it’s very obvious to me that he’s a horse that always takes a long time and needs a break between races – and that came too quick for him on Saturday.

“I’m not worried about that – you can eradicate that (run).”

Younevercall and David Bass en route to their Sandown victory in the 2019 bet365 Select Hurdle
Younevercall and David Bass en route to their Sandown victory in the 2019 bet365 Select Hurdle (Julian Herbert/PA)

Younevercall, who had performed with such credit to be fourth in the Grade One Long Walk at Ascot before Christmas, will have more than three months to freshen up for his big target.

“There’s nothing else for him to run in (for a while),” added Bailey.

“He doesn’t need to be going to Cheltenham – he doesn’t like going left-handed.

“So I should think our season with him now will be aimed at Sandown, (and) I’d think we’ll probably go straight there.”

Kim Bailey weighing up options for Imperial Aura

Ryanair Chase hopeful Imperial Aura is likely to head straight to the Cheltenham Festival without another run following his early departure at Kempton.

However, trainer Kim Bailey has yet to emphatically rule out the possibility of the Ascot Chase for his still inexperienced yet highly-promising chaser.

Imperial Aura remains near the top of the ante-post market for the Ryanair Chase, behind title-holder Min – despite parting company with jockey David Bass when he made an uncharacteristic error at the second fence on Saturday.

Bailey will scour the fixture list for any alternative option which has previously eluded him, but feels there is not enough time between Ascot on February 20 and the Ryanair on March 18.

“I don’t think so,” he said.

“I haven’t really looked (again yet), because I want to be sure how the horse comes out of it – but from what I saw beforehand, there were only two races he could possibly run in.

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“The reason why we went for that race yesterday was it gave him a longer break to Cheltenham.”

Reflecting on the early departure, his trainer said: “It’s happened – you can come up with all sorts of theories as to why.

“But at the end of it, he parted company with his jockey! It was very unfortunate, not something we expected to happen.”

He was beaten into second last year on his only attempt beyond three miles, and has since excelled over shorter, but has been given an entry in the Gold Cup.

Two For Gold (right) en route to victory at Warwick
Two For Gold (right) en route to victory at Warwick (Steven Paston/PA)

Bailey said: “Ian Robinson (of ownership syndicate Imperial Racing) was the one who wished for the horse to be entered (in the Gold Cup) – which is absolutely fair enough.

“It’s to cover all options, in case things happen – you’ve got to do that.”

Bailey’s Two For Gold at least completed the course at Kempton but had to settle for a hard-earned two-length third in a competitive handicap chase.

He too is fine after his exertions, and is also exercising his trainer’s thought processes over where to run next – with more game time necessary to help him learn to jump more fluently at speed.

Kim Bailey (middle) is steering a course towards spring targets for his string
Kim Bailey (middle) is steering a course towards spring targets for his string (PA)

“He gets three miles – I wasn’t terribly sure he’d get the distance in the Ladbroke,” said the Cotswolds trainer.

“Yesterday, and the Ladbroke, they were fast-run races. He’s a horse that tootled round in his novices last year, very much in his own control. The Ladbroke, they broke the track record, and he struggled to jump off that pace.

“Yesterday, he was harassed from the word go, never got into a rhythm to be able to jump (well) – he did remarkably well to finish third, quite honestly, and it shows what a nice horse he is.

“Going forward there are plenty of races to be won with him.

“I need to see how he comes out of the race. It took him a while to get over Newbury. He’s sound and fine this morning, but he’d want a bit of time between his races.”

Bailey hoping Aura can rise to Kempton test

Kim Bailey has his fingers crossed that Imperial Aura continues his rapid progression in the Ladbrokes Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton on Saturday.

Winner of a handicap at the Cheltenham Festival last March, he reappeared with a smooth success at Carlisle and handled the step up in class with aplomb to win a Grade Two at Ascot last time out.

He carries a penalty for that success and is among the leading British-trained contenders for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

“This race has been the plan for some time now,” said Bailey.

“We’ve got our fingers crossed that he keeps going in the right direction.

“Whether two and a half miles is sharp enough for him trip-wise around Kempton, we’re not going to find out until the race!

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“He hasn’t put a foot wrong to date this season, but the form of his last race at Ascot doesn’t look very strong now – it’s difficult to assess really.”

Paul Nicholls is taking on the favourite with Master Tommytucker, who has been a reformed character this season.

Master Tommytucker has jumped much better this season
Master Tommytucker has jumped much better this season (Mike Egerton/PA)

His jumping has let him down in the past, but he has put in four clear rounds this season and made a valiant attempt off top weight at Cheltenham last time out.

“His jumping has improved a lot since he was last at Kempton and this looks a nice race for him with only a handful of runners,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“I thought he ran all right for a long way off top weight and learned plenty in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham, which was a seriously competitive race.

“I am expecting a big run from Master Tommytucker, with Imperial Aura the one to beat.”

Nigel Twiston-Davies is hoping the freshness has been knocked out of Riders Onthe Storm after he ran no race in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham.

He fell in last season’s Ryanair when still holding every chance, having won a Grade One at Ascot prior to that.

“Riders Onthe Storm is in really good form. He was a bit of a lunatic on his first time as he was very fresh, but he is more settled now. We are looking forward to this,” said Twiston-Davies.

“There are very few races a horse of his class can go for, but going back up to two and a half miles is plus for him. I’d imagine we will take this in en route to the Ascot Chase then the Ryanair.”

Clondaw Castle won a decent race at Newbury this season
Clondaw Castle won a decent race at Newbury this season (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

While Tom George’s Clondaw Castle is the outsider of the four runners, he has put up three good efforts this season and was slightly unlucky behind Mister Fisher last time out.

He had earlier won a good handicap at Newbury and finished second in the Old Roan at Aintree.

“Clondaw Castle definitely got hampered at the wrong moment last time and the ground would have been soft enough for him that day at Cheltenham, so we just hope they don’t get too much rain or snow,” said George.

“He’s definitely progressing, we’ve seen an improvement in him at home as well, so I think he’s heading in the right direction.”

Min tops 50 contenders for Ryanair Chase gold

Last year’s winner Min is one of 50 entries for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Having previously chased home Altior in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Willie Mullins-trained Min finally enjoyed his day in the sun at the showpiece meeting 12 months ago.

Having kicked off the current campaign by winning his third John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase, the 10-year-old is the ante-post favourite to successfully defend his Ryanair crown and become just the second dual winner after Albertas Run (2010 and 2011).

An 11-strong Mullins contingent also includes Allaho, Chacun Pour Soi, Kemboy, Melon and Tornado Flyer, although several have alternative engagements in one or both of the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Other contenders for the Ryanair include last year’s runner-up Saint Calvados, trained by Harry Whittington, Henry de Bromhead’s Savills Chase winner A Plus Tard, Nicky Henderson’s superstar chaser Altior and Kim Bailey’s Imperial Aura, who is set to run in the Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton this weekend.

Bailey said: “Imperial Aura is in good form and he runs on Saturday – that race is essentially his prep run for the Cheltenham Festival, where he will hopefully line up in the Ryanair Chase.

“He won at the Festival last year and I have been delighted with his performances so far this year.

“I am very happy with him and Saturday should hopefully tell us more, but Cheltenham is definitely a target for him.”

Amy Murphy is considering multiple options for Kalashnikov ahead of a likely tilt at the Ryanair.

Having shaped with promise when seventh on his reappearance over hurdles at Haydock, Murphy’s stable star was a well-backed favourite for the rescheduled Peterborough Chase at Cheltenham last month and emerged with plenty of credit in finishing second to Mister Fisher.

She said: “Kalashnikov in great form. He’s been in very light work since Cheltenham – we haven’t done a lot with him at all.

“We’ve freshened him up. He’s received an entry in the Ryanair Chase at the Festival and he’ll have one more run between now and then.

“I’ve put him in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster, there’s Newbury in mid-February and Warwick in mid-February as well, so he’s got a few different options.”

Imperial Aura headlines Kempton card

Cheltenham Festival hero Imperial Aura is the star name among 11 entries for the Unibet Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton on Saturday.

Kim Bailey’s charge won the now defunct novices’ handicap chase at Prestbury Park in March and has continued in the same vein this term – winning the Colin Parker Memorial Chase at Carlisle before impressing in the Grade Two 1965 Chase at Ascot.

The eight-year-old disputes ante-post favouritism with last year’s winner Min for the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, and will be well fancied to enhance his claims in this weekend’s two-and-a-half-mile Grade Two contest.

Nicky Henderson has entered 2019 winner Top Notch, as well as Mengli Khan and Mister Fisher, who won the rescheduled Peterborough Chase at Cheltenham on his latest appearance.

Paul Nicholls saddled Frodon to win 12 months ago and could this year be represented by Master Tommytucker.

Other hopefuls include the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Riders Onthe Storm, Ann Hamilton’s stable star Nuts Well and Tom George’s Peterborough Chase third Clondaw Castle.

Nine horses are in contention for the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle, which was saved and switched from the abandoned New Year’s Day fixture at Cheltenham.

George’s Summerville Boy could bid for back-to-back victories in the race, Bailey has entered Long Walk Hurdle fourth Younevercall, Nicholls could run McFabulous and Thomas Darby may represent Olly Murphy.

Paul Webber’s Cheltenham Festival winner Indefatigable also features.

The Unibet Lanzarote Hurdle is a race with plenty of history. An entry of 31 includes four Henderson inmates in Call Me Lord, Champagne Platinum, Glynn and The Cashel Man, while Nicholls has an interesting pair in Solo and Amour De Nuit.

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.

Bailey ready to take plunge as Younevercall heads for Cleeve

Kim Bailey will send Younevercall back left-handed for the first time in almost five years, in next month’s Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Younevercall led over the last in Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle on Saturday, proving himself up to competing at the highest level.

The lightly-raced nine-year-old has not raced left-handed since hanging badly right throughout at Doncaster in February 2016.

“I was absolutely over the moon with him,” said Bailey.

“I always said we wouldn’t run him left-handed, but we’re going to have to run him in the Cleeve Hurdle and find out whether he can go that way.

“If we didn’t run in the Cleeve (on January 30) to see we’d have to wait for Sandown or Punchestown (in the spring) – there’s not much else, and they fall too close together really.

“He proved he was up to that level and was only beaten seven lengths, so it was a phenomenal performance when you consider all the problems he’s had.

Imperial Aura was imperious at Ascot last time out
Imperial Aura was imperious at Ascot last time out (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“It’s a shame, it’s often the case the good horses have injuries, how good would he have been? The owners have been very patient with him – he’s been great for them, and they got a great thrill on Saturday.”

Bailey’s stable star Imperial Aura, a Grade Two winner last time out, will head to Kempton on January 9.

“Imperial Aura will go to Kempton next for the Silviniaco Conti Chase,” said the Cotswolds trainer.

Kim Bailey thrilled to see Balleticon back to winning ways after long absence

Kim Bailey was delighted to see Balleticon make a successful return from a 705-day absence in the 20K Owners Club Guarantee Maiden Hurdle at Southwell on Sunday.

Runner-up in two of his three bumper starts, the six-year-old had not been seen in competitive action since finishing fifth at Bangor almost two years ago.

Hot favourite Mocacreme Has loomed up looking a big danger to the front-running Balleticon before leaving the back straight, but the latter refused to yield and proved three and a half lengths too strong.

Bailey said: “I’m absolutely thrilled and a big thank you goes to my head lad George Savill. He rides this horse every day and he is far from an easy horse, I promise you.

“His bumper form is rock solid and he’s got stacks of ability, but he’s unbelievably fragile.

“Fingers crossed he’s in one piece tomorrow and I rather feel the same way about his owners, actually – this is their first winner and I think there’ll be big celebrations for them tonight!”

Ecossais justified 2-1 favouritism in the opening Download The Star Sports App Now! Handicap Chase.

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Ecossais (centre) on his way to victory at Southwell
Ecossais (centre) on his way to victory at Southwell (Tim Goode/PA)

Oliver Greenall’s charge successfully followed up his course victory of last month with a near three-length verdict in the hands of 5lb claimer Ross Turner.

“I’m very pleased. He’s healthy and well and improving, so it’s all good,” said Greenall.

“I was a bit worried about the softer ground, but he seemed to handle it.

“He just seems uncomplicated, so it’s great.”

Debden Bank also obliged for favourite-backers in the Call Star Sports On 08000 521 321 Handicap Chase.

A promising third on his seasonal reappearance at Stratford last month, the 100-30 chance was fitted with cheekpieces for his latest assignment and they seemed to have the desired effect, with James Best’s mount powering 11 lengths clear of his toiling rivals.

Fame And Concrete made a seriously impressive start to his career in the Read Davy Russell’s Exclusive Blog Standard Open NH Flat Race.

Representing the father-son combination of Jonjo O’Neill and Jonjo O’Neill junior, the 7-2 shot took over the lead rounding the home and the further he went the better he looked – passing the post 13 lengths clear of Deeper Blue.

Phil Kirby’s Another Theatre was a surprise winner of the £10k Showtime Guarantee Mares’ Handicap Hurdle.

Formerly trained by Henry Oliver, the daughter of Shantou had shown precious little in her first two starts over fences for Kirby in finishing seventh at Perth before being pulled up at the same track.

Another Theatre was a wide-margin winner
Another Theatre was a wide-margin winner (Tim Goode/PA)

She was priced up accordingly for her return to the smaller obstacles at 28-1, but romped to an 18-length triumph under Tommy Dowson.

Kirby said: “Her form was good before we got her and the plan was to go chasing, but she’s just struggled.

“She’d schooled well at home, but hasn’t jumped particularly well at the races, so we just decided to go back to basics over hurdles and try to teach her to be a racehorse again, as she’d just lost her way.

“It’s a nice surprise to see her win today. Hopefully there’s more to come from her now.”

Oliver Sherwood and Brendan Powell combined to land the Pipped At The Post Offer EBF “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle with 10-11 favourite Ocean Drifter.

Storm in Control for Patrick and Lee

Richard Patrick had to survive a few anxious moments before celebrating a second Cheltenham victory aboard Storm Control in the Unibet Handicap Chase.

Having ridden out his claim on the Kerry Lee-trained gelding at the track last month, Patrick made it two wins from as many outings on the seven-year-old in the Grade Three.

The 5-1 shot, having jumped the last in front, attempted to stop half-way up the run-in, only to pick up again once joined by eventual second Potters Legend and favourite Court Maid, eventually prevailing by a length.

Patrick said: “I panicked a little bit, but once he heard them come behind him, he picked up again and he was good and brave, but it was a long half-furlong!

“I don’t think he was emptying. He was just waiting for something to come to him and, to be fair, he did it last time and he just half waited for them. He was in front where we needed him to be.

“He had gone a long way out in front and he was just getting a bit lonely and I’m sure if there was a fence between the last and the line, it would have helped him out.

“It is only the second time I’ve ridden him, but he means a lot to me.”

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Tom Buckley heaped praise on Breffniboy (15-2) following the Catesby Handicap Hurdle, with the Johnny Farrelly-trained six-year-old completing a four-timer as he gave the rider his first win at the track.

Buckley said: “I lost my 7lb claim on him at Kempton and it is another achievement to have my first winner around here on him.

“After the last I thought I might get second, but the further he went, the more chance I thought I had of winning. He has come to the best track of all and come up against some good horses and he has done it nicely.”

After 32 failed attempts, Alan Johns finally celebrated a winner at the track courtesy of 33-1 shot Madera Mist in the CF Roberts Electrical & Mechanical Services Mares’ Handicap Chase.

Johns said: “It’s been a long road, but I’m delighted. It’s job done now. We all want to win here, so it doesn’t matter if it’s empty or full, it’s just nice to have a winner here.”

Of the Tim Vaughan-trained winner, he added: “We have been making the running with her, she just does too much, but she switched off behind and that is what has worked.”

Tom George may no longer be able to call on Noel Fehily’s services in the saddle, but the pair celebrated another victory together as Come On Teddy (11-2) stormed to victory by five and a half lengths in the Citipost Handicap Hurdle.

George said: “It is lovely to get a winner for Noel Fehily’s racing syndicate as we had some big days together down the years, as you know.

“I bumped into Noel in the summer and said ‘you have all these horses with other trainers, but not me’ and he said I hadn’t offered him one and the only one I had was this one.

“He is a progressive horse and it was a novelty to have one at the right end of the weights.”

Happygolucky (13-8 favourite) showed stamina is his forte as he returned to winning ways in the International Decorative Surfaces Novices’ Chase.

Moving into a decisive advantage between the last two fences, Kim Bailey’s charge kept on gamely to hold the fast-finishing The Mighty Don by three and three-quarter lengths.

Bailey said: “I’m very pleased as he jumped very well. He is a proper trainer’s horse as he is not very big, but just a very athletic individual.

“He got there far too soon. He got a long one at the third last and landed in front, which he shouldn’t have done. He was committed really and he got lonely in front. He has done well.

“I’d certainly like to be here back in March (at the Festival), but what in I don’t know. He would stay as long as you want probably. A lot will depend on what the ground is like.”

Make Me A Believer (16-5) demonstrated a tenacious attitude on his first start since undergoing a wind operation to deny the hat-trick seeking Any News by a length in the British EBF “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle.

Trainer David Pipe said: “What I liked today was that he looked beat, but he fought back. I would imagine he would probably be going back up in trip. He has got a nice bit of ability and he looks to have a good attitude there.

“He will be back at the Festival one year, whether it is next year I don’t know.”

Happygolucky delights Bailey with Cheltenham verdict

Happygolucky showed stamina is his forte as he returned to winning ways in the International Decorative Surfaces Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Appearing to appreciate the step up to three miles for the first time under rules, the Kim Bailey-trained six-year-old went one better than his previous start at Fakenham by adding to his debut success over fences at Stratford.

Moving into a decisive advantage between the last two fences, the 13-8 favourite, who finished fourth in the Martin Pipe at the Festival in March, kept on gamely to hold the fast-finishing The Mighty Don by three and three-quarter lengths.

Bailey said: “I think the other horse (Getaway Trump) was on a going day at Fakenham. We jumped the last and the rail wasn’t by the fence and he hung to the left and that is what cost him the race at Fakenham.

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“I’m very pleased as he jumped very well. He is a proper trainer’s horse as he is not very big, but just a very athletic individual.

“He got there far too soon. He got a long one at the third last and landed in front, which he shouldn’t have done. He was committed really and he got lonely in front. He has done well.”

Assessing future plans, Bailey hopes Happygolucky, who was introduced at 33-1 for the National Hunt Chase by SkyBet, will return to the Festival in March.

He added: “I’d certainly like to be here back in March, what in I don’t know. He would stay as long as you want probably. A lot will depend on what the ground is like.

“There are a lot of very good horses around and he is probably not quite in that (former RSA Chase) league yet. I think he is probably happier left handed, so there are plenty of nice races to look at.”

Make Me A Believer (16-5) demonstrated a tenacious attitude on his first start since undergoing a wind operation to deny the hat-trick seeking Any News by a length in the British EBF “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle.

Pipe said: “We’ve always thought he was a nice horse. He was beaten by a good horse at Lingfield first time out and he has had a wind op since.

“What I liked today was that he looked beat, but he fought back. I would imagine he would probably be going back up in trip. He has got a nice bit of ability and he looks to have a good attitude there.

“He will be back at the Festival one year, whether it is next year I don’t know.”