Kim Bailey: ‘Joy and relief – something I’ve not felt for years’


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  • Successful National Hunt trainer Kim Bailey reveals the inside story of an unforgettable Cheltenham Festival

    It is hard to explain how important a Cheltenham Festival winner is to a racing yard, trainer, and owner. It is why we all are in this great sport of jump racing. The Cheltenham Festival is the mecca of our sport – just being there is important, having a runner is very important and having a winner is the most exhilarating experience of all.

    Our little journey started when Aiden Murphy and I bought Ben Halsall’s Chianti Classico from Colin Bowe, the Irish points trainer, at the Tattersalls sales in April 2021. I knew Ben well, and he was adamant that this point-to-point winner was going to be a star. Seeing the horse at the sales, he just had that wonderful loose walk of an athlete and bright, shining gems for eyes. I fell in love and bought him on spec. I am an addict at the sales and, all too often, fall for the charms of these magnificent animals.

    Richard Pilkington and Sir Francis Brooke bought Chianti Classico and he started his racing life with us with a second in a bumper at Ascot, before winning one at Market Rasen. Last season, he won three hurdle races, then we had that dream of a Cheltenham runner last year in the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle. This is where it all went wrong and the lovely horse nearly collapsed after the race with a wind problem.

    On course for a comeback

    The well-known wind guru Ben Brain operated on him and he started his chasing career last October at Chepstow, in the pouring rain. He won impressively.
    Richard was there with his school friend – and the BBC’s former racing correspondent – Cornelius Lysaght, and it was Cornelius who suggested the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham as a target.

    I was keen to run him at Ascot, especially as I knew Sir Francis, who is His Majesty’s representative, always loved the idea of having a winner at his racecourse. Chianti started the race at short odds, but it was not a race for the faint-hearted. The ground was too fast for him and, although he won, he really did not enjoy the experience. Perhaps in hindsight, it was good as the handicapper was not too impressed and hardly moved his mark ahead of Cheltenham.

    Our lovely Trelawne was also entered in the Ultima and my stable jockey David Bass, who had ridden both horses, picked Chianti while Harry Cobden came in for the ride on Trelawne. I watched from the stands, and when Trelawne fell at the second fence, I went cold as he did not look in a good state when he got up. I did not watch the first circuit of the race as I was glued to Trelawne.

    Thankfully, he was fine, having just banged a nerve, and Harry and my travelling head girl, Leigh Pollard, led him off the racing line.

    Something you don’t often see

    David Bass was almost overconfident as he took a pull on Chianti’s reins to steady up at the top of the hill, something you don’t see often at the Festival unless you are trained by Willie Mullins. Chianti looked all over the winner with a mile to go, and despite a heart-stopping peck at the last, he won.

    That feeling of joy and relief as he passed the post was something I have not felt for four years. David rode into the winner’s enclosure like a conquering Roman emperor. Talk about milking it! The celebrations were heavy but fun, though I might have felt better on Wednesday morning had our winner been called Margaux.

    Cheltenham is a magnificent theatre of racing, and yes, the Irish were top-heavy with their runners and winners, but that doesn’t take away from the delight of our very special winner.

    Racing is all about dreaming, and now Sir Francis and Richard will be doing just that as David Bass said immediately after of his dreams of Aintree. Really, David, what planet are you on?

    ● What was your standout moment of the Cheltenham Festival? Let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and country, for the chance for your letter to appear in a forthcoming magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 28 March

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