Trainer Kim Bailey has revealed he has some high profile targets for his yard this season, insisting: “We have the best bunch of horses we have had for a long time.”
The challenge for Bailey and his Andoversford team will be building on such an impressive 2020-21 campaign, in which he celebrated his first Grade One winner since Master Oats’ 1995 Cheltenham Gold Cup success.
First Flow’s victory in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January was an example of Bailey’s emphasis on quality over quantity and after saddling 59 winners last season he believes he has found the perfect balance to help ensure success on a more frequent basis.
Bailey explained: “I’m very happy with last season but unfortunately that is last season and it doesn’t do you much good, apart from looking back at some good memories highlighted by First Flow in the Clarence House Chase.
“I’m delighted with the way it went and it has pushed us into an area where we have some nice horses for this season. I’d probably say we have the best bunch of horses we have had for a long time.
“We have got a lot of youngsters through the summer. We might not have the same numbers as we have had before but hopes for winners at the top end is good with the youngsters we have coming through.”
Ground conditions will ultimately determine where First Flow makes his seasonal return, but an outing in the Grade One Betfair Tingle Creek at Sandown Park (Saturday 4th December) has been identified by Bailey as a potential starting point for his stable flagbearer.
He said: “He has had a minor back operation as we found after he came back from Punchestown that he had a couple of kissing spines. He is not going to have an easy season this year unfortunately.
“The Tingle Creek is a possibility or we could go back to Ascot and step him up to two and a half miles. It is so ground related for him. He is definitely a better horse right-handed, so we need a wet winter.
“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 looked to have the world at his feet following victories in the Listed Colin Parker Intermediate Chase at Carlisle and the Grade Two 1965 Chase at Ascot, before unseating at the same level in the Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton Park.
After pulling up in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, where it was later discovered he broke a blood vessel, the eight year old will step back up to three miles on his return in next month’s Grade One Betfair Chase at Haydock Park (Saturday 20th November).
He said: “Imperial Aura is probably going to go straight to the Betfair Chase as he is now crying out to go over three miles. He has 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.”
Having claimed the Colin Parker at Carlisle 12 months ago with Imperial Aura, Bailey hopes he can repeat the feat with Espoir De Romay,
The lightly raced seven year old was last sighted departing at the second last when pushing Chantry House close in the Grade One Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree.
He said: “Was it a tired fall and was he getting to the end of his tether at Aintree when he fell? I don’t know. The handicapper doesn’t think so.
“He goes to the Colin Parker at Carlisle. We stopped with him after Aintree but he is in good form. We schooled him this week and he jumped very well.
“He seems a stronger horse. He is nearly 17 hands so he is not a small horse and he is a horse that I hope will get better as he gets older. We would like to think he would be a King George horse if everything went to plan.”
It is 31 years since Bailey secured the Grand National with Mr Frisk, but he could have another contender for the world’s greatest steeplechase this season in El Presente.
Before tackling the Grand National fences the eight year old will attempt to claim back-to-back victories in the Listed 60th Badger Beer Handicap Chase at Wincanton on Saturday 6th November.
He said: “We are going to start off in the Badger Beer but he will have an entry in the Becher Chase after that as his owners are very keen to try him over the National fences.
“It is a difficult one as I think he might prefer going right-handed than left-handed. I suggested the Irish National at the end of the year.
“We will go to Aintree though and see how he gets on and if that goes well he will become a Grand National horse and if not he will be an Irish National horse.
“He is off 148 and probably won’t have top weight and his form is very solid. He met virtually the same horses every time he ran.”
After making a winning debut over fences at Chepstow last Friday a fourth outing at Cheltenham at next weekend’s Showcase Meeting could now be on the cards for Grade Two-winning hurdler Does He Know.
He said: “It was a really good start and there is a possibility he might go to Cheltenham next weekend as three miles around there wouldn’t be a problem.
“It is hard to gauge that form and how fit everybody was. He is a horse that comes to hand very easily.
“He had a good season last season early on. It all went pear-shaped in the Challow Hurdle where he bombed out, then he came back and ran well at Cheltenham.
“He loves his racing and is a trier. He is a quirky individual but he is a good horse.”
Flirtatious Girl is expected to take high rank among the mares novice hurdle division having signed off on a winning note in the Listed British Stallion Studs EBF Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race at Sandown Park.
He said: “She is ready to run but wants soft ground. There is a possibly she will go to Worcester next week but she wants rain. She is a soft ground horse. She is too valuable mare to take a chance on.
“I think she is quite a nice mare. The handicapper has looked at the form and thinks it was a substandard race at Sandown, but who knows?”
All roads lead to the final day of the season at Sandown Park and the Grade Two bet365 Select Hurdle for Younevercall, but in the meantime the 10 year old could make his return in a Pertemps qualifier at Kempton Park next month.
He said: “He will go back to Sandown for the Grade Two he has won twice before on the last day of the season but in the meantime he will have the same route as last year.
“He will have an entry at Wetherby in the West Yorkshire Hurdle and see how that looks but he will probably end up in the Pertemps qualifier he has run in before at Kempton.
“He ran in the Stayers’ Hurdle and ran a remarkably good race in that but there is no doubt in my mind he is better right-handed than left-handed.”
Vinndication showed glimpses of his talent last season when finishing second in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby and sixth in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at The Festival™.
Bailey remains optimistic he can bounce back to his best and said: “He is going back over fences and he will go back to Ascot on the 30th for the race he won two years ago. I very much hope he stays over fences this season.
“We don’t know why he fell in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury, which is the reason why we went back over hurdles so we will see where we are.
“I do believe there is a good race still in him and he got condemned for one run.”
Ajero proved a revelation last season after racking up a four-timer before coming unstuck in the Grade One Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle, but Bailey is confident he still has plenty more to offer.
He said: “He had a long season and I think that is what caught up with him when he went to Aintree. At the end of it he is still a relative baby and he still ran well in defeat.
“He will start his season off at Ascot in a Listed handicap hurdle on October 30th.
“He is by a sire (Red Jazz) that has hardly had a winner over hurdles but he is a half-brother to Charbel who was a decent two miler so anything is possible with him.”
In recent seasons Bailey has excelled with his novice chasers and in Bobhopeornohope and Equus Dreamer he could have two more exciting recruits to go over fences with.
He said: “Bobhopeornohope started well then disappeared completely off the Richter scale. He has since had a wind operation that will hopefully bring him back into contention again.
“I hope going over fences will bring out more as at the end of it he is an ex-point-to-point winner.
“Equus Dreamer will be going over fences but he is another soft ground horse so we have to wait for conditions with him as well. He is not in the same league as some of the others but he could be a better horse over fences, you just don’t know.
“He won his novice hurdle then got beat under a penalty but at the end of day he wasn’t going to be a hurdler.”
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Kyntara looked an exciting prospect when bolting up on his sole start last season in a Warwick bumper, and together with Sayadam and new stable recruit Pipesmoker, Bailey appears to have three smart novice hurdlers on his hands.
He said: “Kyntara won his bumper very impressively and will go novice hurdling. Hopefully he will be a decent animal. The way he won that day he gave you the impression the further he went the better he was.
“Sayadam has won his novice hurdle and will now carry a penalty before we step him up and see if he is anything better than that.
“If you watch both his races he was never going particularly well in either so I don’t mind going up in trip from two miles with him.
“Pipesmoker is still a maiden at the moment but if we can keep him in one piece he is a nice horse. They thought quite highly of him at Nicky Henderson’s and so do we.
“We very much like what we see from first impressions. He is a very nice horse but he has had his issues and it is just a case of managing them.”
One horse who will not be part of Bailey’s team for this season is Happygolucky, who has met with a setback having ended last term with victory in the Grade Three Betway Handicap Chase at the Randox Grand National Festival at Aintree.
He said: “He is not in this season. 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.”