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.

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“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.”

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 looking to Vinndication for Ladbrokes Trophy triumph

Kim Bailey believes Vinndication is capable of filling a glaring omission on his CV by giving him a first victory in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury on Saturday week.

The Andoversford handler, speaking in front of the media at Tuesday’s Ladbrokes Winter Carnival gallops morning at the track, hinted the Grade Three prize is likely to be the next target for the eight-year-old – who found only Cyrname too strong on his return in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby.

Having won a Grand National, Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle, Bailey has only placed in the Grade Three heat – with Mr Frisk and Docklands Express finishing third in 1989 and 1991 respectively.

Newtide (right) and Vinndication schooled at Newbury
Newtide (right) and Vinndication schooled at Newbury (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Bailey said: “I won’t make a decision until next week (over Vinndication’s participation). I think if all things go to plan next week, you are more likely to see him here. He is an out-and-out stayer, so three and a quarter miles is no problem.

“I think I’ve only had two or three runners in it. I had Mr Frisk placed in it and another horse called Man O’Magic finish sixth in it. Docklands Express was also third in it.

“I’ve yet to win it. It’s a lovely race to win and it would be great on my CV.”

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Although Vinndication was not foot perfect in a schooling session alongside Grade Two-winning stablemate Newtide at Newbury, Bailey believes it will have taken some of the freshness out of him and sharpened him up.

He added: “I wanted to school him today as when I brought him here two years ago to school, he wasn’t very good.

“He was very fresh today, and I was desperate to get a school in today to see how he reacted.

“By the last fence he got himself sorted out – he took the first two miles outside the wings.

“We will school him between now and then at home and make a decision after the weekend on where we go.”

Two For Gold, right, is rated no better than a 50/50 chance to line up in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury (Steven Paston/PA Images)
Two For Gold (right) is rated no better than a 50/50 chance to line up in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury (Steven Paston/PA Images)

Bailey could also be represented in the race by Two For Gold, who has the option of Newcastle’s Listed Betfair Rehearsal Chase on the same day.

He said: “I would think it is 50/50 he runs. When we make the entry for the Rehearsal Chase, we will see the two races and see where we are.

“He definitely fits the profile, but it would be nicer if he was a year older.

“It’s a big ask for him to go from two and a half miles at Wetherby to three and a quarter miles around here, because he hasn’t been that trip before.”

Tom George believes Grade One-winning hurdler Black Op will have no issues racing beyond three miles for the first time in the handicap feature.

George said: “He had a nice run up at Carlisle in an intermediate chase there. He wasn’t ready that day – that would have put him spot on hopefully.

“He won’t have any problems with the trip. He loves a big, flat track. He has got a good weight, and this has been the plan for quite a while with him.

“In the Kauto Star Chase at Kempton (last December), we should have maybe in hindsight made a bit more use of him as he was only beaten a short distance in the end. I can’t see stamina being a problem.

“He hasn’t done that much chasing for an older horse, but he seems to be going the right way.”

Ben Pauling is confident he has Kildisart, another in action at the gallops event, exactly where he wants him on his return to fences – having finished third in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby on his reappearance.

“We went to Wetherby as a bit of a prep race – and he ran a mighty race, to be honest, against some good hurdlers,” said Pauling.

“He will come on for that run, and he came out of the race very well. It was nice to see him just stride on today.

“He was very relaxed – and Holly (Osborne), who rides him every day, said when he got upsides, he just locked on. That was job done for him.

“He does seem to be getting better with age. I think he is in as good a place as he can be to come here in 10 days and give it his all.”