‘It will mean more to me to win at Cheltenham now'
Horse & Hound|March 11, 2021
Trainer Kim Bailey has shown the “survival instincts of a fox” since completing a Gold Cup/Champion Hurdle double in 1995, as Julian Muscat finds out
Julian Muscat

TRAINERS of a certain age express a common lament. They cannot fathom why owners flock to younger practitioners when they boast a wealth of experience. As their strings dwindle, lament descends to self-pity. Before they know it, they are ushered into enforced retirement as grumpy old men.

Not Kim Bailey. The man now approaching his 68th birthday knows more than most about life’s snakes and ladders. It has taken him 20 years to reclaim the prominence he enjoyed when everything came easily. Although he’d fail the vet the moment he walked out of his box, he combines the survival instincts of a fox with the enthusiasm of a newborn foal.

It’s a trait many owners find endearing. Time and again Bailey has looked calamity in the eye. His nadir arrived in tandem with the new millennium, when he rose one morning to find his new all-weather gallop washed away by a torrent of rain. He turned what might have been an adverse metaphor into a second baptism. So much so that Bailey descends on the Cheltenham Festival with two fancied runners in races that matter. First Flow, the horse he describes as an oddball, has designs on the Champion Chase, while Imperial Aura is among the favourites for the Ryanair Chase.

Bailey has been there before, of course. In 1995, at the height of his first coming, he completed the Gold Cup/Champion Hurdle double with Master Oats and Alderbrook respectively. He didn’t win another Grade One race until First Flow slaked the drought at Ascot in January, which opened the door to some gentle ribbing.

Bailey responds with interest. “It’s people like you who never allow me to forget it,” he says of his 26 years in the wilderness. “Every time I had a runner in a Grade One race, TV pundits reminded me I hadn’t won one since before World War II.”

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