‘He had a dream he’d win – possibly after one too many cocktails’: Kim Bailey recalls an unlikely Cheltenham Festival feat

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  • Racehorse trainer and H&H racing columnist Kim Bailey has sent out more than 1,400 winners in a glittering career that includes landing the magical big three – the Champion Hurdle, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National.

    He has two runners heading to this year’s Cheltenham Festival (12-15 March) – Chianti Classico and Trelawne.

    “Having runners at the Cheltenham Festival is always exciting, the build-up is huge. Having a winner there is like having 10 winners elsewhere,” says Kim on Episode 146 of The Horse & Hound Podcast.

    But Kim goes on to reveal that his greatest Festival moment to date came in the “heady days” of the all-conquering Alderbrook and Master Oats. In 1995 he and jockey Norman Williamson teamed up to land both the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup, which celebrates its centenary this year, with the two horses.

    “Alderbrook was my first Cheltenham winner and you never forget the first and last of anything you do,” says Kim, telling the “extraordinary” story of how he came to be crowned a Festival hero.

    “Ernie Pick, who owned Alderbrook, was on holiday in Thailand in late December and I think he may have had one cocktail too many, but he had a dream that his horse was going to win the Champion Hurdle.

    “He arrived on my doorstep having flown straight over to meet me and said, ‘I want you to train my horse to win the Champion Hurdle’.

    “I thought brilliant, because Alderbrook had been a tremendous Flat horse, but I looked up his form and discovered that he’d had one run over hurdles and finished tailed off last. So I thought this was a dream, but also a situation that wasn’t going to happen.

    “But like all trainers, I said yes, of course we will!”

    A massive target with a little help from Yogi Breisner…

    Kim’s one proviso was that Alderbrook went for 10 days of schooling with training guru Yogi Breisner to teach him how to jump.

    “After a week Yogi rang me up and said, ‘Sorry, I’m not winning’ and I replied, ‘Sorry Yogi, that’s not a good enough excuse, you’ve got three more days’. And without him, the horse would never have got to Cheltenham because he did a phenomenal job of teaching him to jump,” says Kim. “Both Alderbrook and Master Oats benefited enormously from what Yogi did.”

    Kim reveals that, such was Alderbrook’s brilliance on the gallops, he tried to school him late in the morning, “so nobody else in Lambourn would see him”.

    “But one morning Norman Williamson was riding him and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a horse go so fast in my life. Brian Delaney, who was Charlie Brooks’ head lad, saw him and said, ‘What’s that?’ So I told him it was Alderbrook and he said ‘what are you planning to do with him?’ and I said jokingly, ‘Win the Champion Hurdle’ – I think he might have reached the Lambourn betting shop even before I did!”

    The Kim Bailey-trained Master Oats wins the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1995 with Norman Williamson in the saddle.

    The Kim Bailey-trained Master Oats wins the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1995 with Norman Williamson in the saddle.

    Kim Bailey: “Master Oats was not a good jumper”

    Kim Bailey recalls his amazement of watching Alderbrook turning for home in the Champion Hurdle, still on the bridle – and the rest is history.

    “He and Master Oats were completely different horses. Alderbrook was a bright, entertaining, intelligent individual, while Master Oats was dour, thick and boring,” says the Thorndale Farm handler. “He would run through a brick wall for you and he was not a good jumper – his brain wasn’t quite quick enough for his feet.

    “He’d see a fence, prick his ears, but forget that his feet had to go in the same direction. But again, that’s where Yogi came in and he spent many more hours with Master Oats than he did with Alderbrook. We schooled him over telegraph poles on the morning of the Gold Cup, just to remind him what he was doing.

    “He made one mistake in the Gold Cup and Norman got a bit annoyed with him, pulled him to the outside and it was all over. He’d won the Gold Cup.”

    To hear more about Kim Bailey’s reflections on “A lot of highs and lows and a great deal of fun”, his chances in this year’s Festival and why the Irish continue to dominate, listen here to episode 146 of The Horse & Hound Podcast – or search for “The Horse & Hound Podcast” in your favourite podcast app.

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