Kim Bailey: ‘A sport where dreams can come true’


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  • Successful racehorse trainer Kim Bailey reflects on Irish dominance of jumps racing and how to improve the sport

    THE extended Christmas holiday period has finally come to an end. Frankly we trainers were so busy that we probably went past the stage of knowing which day we were waking up to. It has been frantic, but we have witnessed some fabulous racing, especially across the Irish Sea.

    Before I go any further, let me remind you why I am here writing this column; it is because I love my sport. Talking sport, I need to take you back to Cheltenham’s fabulous New Year’s Day meeting. Not to discuss the brilliance of Venetia Williams’ mare L’Homme Presse, Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Vienna Court or Willie Mullins’ Relkeel Hurdle winner Stormy Ireland, but the battle between two true Corinthian amateurs in Mr David Maxwell and Miss Victoria Malzard, who fought it out up that famous Cheltenham hill to win the less prestigious Paddy Power Handicap Hurdle.

    On this occasion, David Maxwell won the battle – don’t forget that our sport is based on amateurs like David and Victoria, who give their all to win these prizes. What other sport would accept such privileges of amateurs being allowed to perform on the highest stage in front of such a huge crowd?

    Talking crowds, how good it was to see nearly 35,000 people enjoying a wonderful day’s racing, when in Wales, Ireland and Scotland numbers are restricted.

    Irish domination

    RACING, and especially jump racing, is a sport where dreams really can come true. Over the Christmas period we saw a horse called Master McShee ridden by Ian Power win the BoyleSports Faugheen Novice Steeplechase (Grade One) for trainer Paddy Corkery.

    Paddy, who probably is more used to sorting tractors than horses, started hunting at the age of 40, and when asked about going to Cheltenham said, “I’ve been going to England for years buying tractors and felt it was hardship.”

    He won’t if he ends up at Cheltenham in March.

    There has been a huge debate on the impression of the Irish dominance when it comes to the top end of jump racing, and I am afraid it showed again over the Christmas period.

    There was no relenting from the Irish trainers, with their runners performing in all the top races. Willie Mullins ran 81 horses across England and Ireland, with 23 winners – four Group Ones, which included a King George winner with Tornado Flyer and a Relkeel Hurdle with Stormy Ireland. The man is a genius.

    The “home”-based highlights were Shishkin demolishing the Grade Two Desert Orchid Chase and the Sam Thomas-trained Iwilldoit winning the Welsh Grand National.

    Towards the end of Sam’s riding career, he was an unhappy man and struggled when the rides dried up. Now thanks to the support of Dai Walters and becoming a salaried trainer to him, has now found his life fully revitalised. He has had a stellar season, one which was surely boosted when his Iwilldoit, ridden by Stan Sheppard, won at Chepstow. Both the trainer and jockey have weathered the storm since departing Ditcheat and are now both flying, deservedly so.

    More problems with low sun

    AS it’s a new year with new resolutions, I feel that our sport could work on a few in 2022. I have a gripe with how the problem of low sun changes the complexity of a race.

    Of course I can see why races are not run in low sun, and fully accept and understand the safety issue – only last week there was a shocking case when Shewearsitwell in Ireland took off too soon because the shadow was so large in front of the fence that the horse mistook the shadow for a very large fence and paid the price. Thankfully his injuries are not life-threatening.

    However, when we have a situation like we did at Warwick last week, when 10 of the 17 fences that were due to be jumped were taken out because of the low sun, owners and trainers should have a right to withdraw their horse as the race conditions were not what they entered for.

    Difficult I know, but it is something that needs looking into; low sun and jockeys asking for fences or hurdles to be removed is becoming all too common.

    Some of the publicity over the past 12 months has not been good for racing. No crowds being one which affects us financially, but the damage caused to our reputation from the Bryony Frost/Robbie Dunne case and the Freddy Tylicki/Graham Gibbons case; both very sad situations of which one at least could have been resolved if managed correctly.

    A new year has arrived and with it comes many good moments to look forward to. Happy new year!

    • This exclusive column is also available to read in H&H magazine, on sale Thursday 13 January

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