Cheltenham Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle and Grand National-winning jumps trainer Kim Bailey on peak performances, adoring crowds and new weight rules...
PAISLEY PARK lit up Cheltenham when winning the prestigious Cleeve Hurdle at the weekend, but it was not so much the winning that took the mood, but the way in which he did it.
The 10-year-old didn’t seem to fancy being at the races when almost refusing to jump off, leaving the start several lengths behind his illustrious opponents. And it wasn’t until turning into the home straight, when those in front started to tire, you could see the Emma Lavelle-trained gelding thinking, “I could beat this lot.” And so he did, with a great ride from Aidan Coleman.
It really was the stuff of legends and, in years to come, Emma Lavelle will replay Saturday’s race until the tape runs out.
Saturday’s meeting at Cheltenham was billed as Festival Trials Day and Gordon Elliott brought over Pied Piper, an expensive purchase from The Queen, to win the JCB Triumph Trial in a common canter. He certainly has options in all the major hurdle races on the face of that impressive victory.
Less impressive was Chantry House, who struggled to win the Cotswold Chase, or Champ who was second to Paisley Park. But their trainer Nicky Henderson, unlike many, uses the Trials Day for what it is and you will probably see two very different horses return in March. The man is a genius at producing horses cherry ripe for the Cheltenham Festival, not Trials Day.
Saturday was also a golden day for Fergal O’Brien, with Imperial Alcazar bringing up his century of winners for the season, a number that only Donald McCain and Paul Nicholls have hit faster this season.
Racing is a hard business at times, so spare a thought for my former assistant Henry Daly, who went to Cheltenham hoping that his best horse, the unbeaten hurdler Hillcrest, would win the Ballymore Novice Hurdle. But his jockey Richard Patrick was unseated when his horse swerved to avoid a falling jockey. We have all been there, but it is not a good moment.
Shishkin vs Energumene
TALKING of geniuses, we saw two trainers at the top send the two best two-mile chasers, Shishkin and Energumene, to Ascot to produce what was the best race of its type I have watched for 20 years.
Even at the last, you would not have guessed that Shishkin would win as Energumene jumped it three lengths clear, but he did. The reception all the runners in the race received from the adoring crowd when they returned to the unsaddling area was hair-raising. I was just so proud to have been involved with our own glory boy First Flow, who won last year’s race and was third this time, running by far the best race of his life.
It was good to see the ever-youthful Michael Dickinson over from the USA for Trials Day – not his usual trip, as he is always here for the Festival, but Michael was here to say goodbye to one of his favourite owners in Jane Lane.
Jane, who owned the chaser The Mighty Mac, sadly died a couple of weeks ago. She adored Michael and he always stayed with her for the Festival week.
A weighty controversy
THERE has been a great deal of controversy over the new British Horseracing Authority weight rules for Flat and jump jockeys. The new 2lb weight rise comes into force in April because of the banning of racecourse saunas and it has not gone down well with either codes of jockeys.
During the pandemic, jockeys were allowed a 3lb extra weight allowance when saunas were banned and they feel that being taken away and replaced with a 2lb minimum weight rise is not the answer.
My stable jockey David Bass described the change this way: “Weights go up 2lb and we get 3lb equipment allowance. This looks like the difference from now is only 1lb, but the weight going up 2lb in the racecard is irrelevant in a handicap.
“Yes, the minimum weight in the racecard is 10st 2lb but I could get asked to ride a horse with 10st 5lb in the card and I still have to get down 2lb below that. So if I am trying to get down to 10st 3lb, I will have to use short-term weight loss methods when with the current system I’m getting down to 10st 6lb, which is comfortable, without changing my routine.”
On that confusing note, I’ll leave you for another week or so. Hopefully spring is in the air at least.
- This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 3 February
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