Racing is a sport where superstitions are rife. Trainers and riders are creatures of habit. They follow methods that have worked previously. The late David Nicholson always wore red socks to the races; Sam Twiston-Davies salutes magpies on the way to the start. Everyone has their set place in the Weighing Room and it's not purely down to hierarchy. Habit, especially where it can be connected to success, is catching.
So I should have taken note, when en route back from a hack on my former winner of the Munster National, retraining for a spot of hunting, the accomplished local trainer Kim Bailey, former Clerk of the Course at Andoversford, and erstwhile trainer of some 1,300 winners, glided up behind me in a smart electric vehicle and passed the time of day for a minute en route to Stratford's peniultimate fixture of 2020.
Saturday added up to a very satisfactory day at the office for Bailey, adding two more winners to his haul for the season, supplemented by a further one at Ffos Llas this afternoon. The Thorndale team has been largely overshadowed by Fergal O'Brien's red-hort run of form since July 1's resumption, but this looks like a purple patch coming on. Wins for Lots of Luck today (how appropriate), The Bull McCabe and mare Diamond Gait yesterday look like signs of a sweet spot maturing nicely.
Gliding is an apt description for Bailey since he rebuilt his career from the highs of the nineties that included a string of Saturday races, highlighted by Mr Frisk in the 1990 Grand National, a magical run of top class victories from Docklands Express, and that memorable Festival where Alderbrook carried off the Smurfit Champion Hurdle and Master Oats the Tote Cheltenham Gold Cup two (yes two) days later. Bailey remains the only trainer to have achieved that memorable double. In the nineties it all looked effortless.
That was all set to change.
First two years of virus humbled his Lambourn yard, then a failed marriage necessitated a move to Northamptonshire, which proved as effective a stop on Bailey's progress as any lockdown. Winners cut to a dribble, then almost stopped altogether. The nadir was in in the 2007-8 season, when Bailey's 118 runners scratched a miserable 3 winners and all of £29,374 in prize money. It was time to ring the changes, or make for the door.
As a mark of just how grim it was, the decade of the nineties delivered 547 winners and £3,547,828 in prize money. The folllowing decade cut that by 60% to 153 winners and £1,175,402. The glide had pretty much ground to a halt.
And as always in life, success is as much about who you know as what you know. Rosie Vestey stepped forward to offer a move to Gloucestershire and to Thorndale Farm, never previously a training centre. Some investment was needed, but the fresh start and new premises was the impetus that was needed. The winners began to flow again, and now the yard has several top class horses to campaign this season alongside a crop of interesting novices.
Owners have been very loyal, as Kim remarked in our brief exchange. But clouds are gathering. "It's so boring going racing presently," he remarked on the lack of an audience. And he has a point. Owners will always watch their horses race, nor is this to say that Bailey doesn't enjoy meeting his owners at the races, but the enthusiasm of other followers, hangers-on and enthusiasts are so much part of the heady cocktail of racing. And they're also a well of fresh entrants to the ownership market.
Whilst spectators are prevented from enjoying their sport except remotely, there'll always be plenty of temptation to look elsewhere for entertainment. Racing needs a plan to win back its audience when the turnstiles are opened again, and that plan should include Point-to-Point racing too.
But with ambassadors like KC Bailey, we should be in good hands - especially if you hold to your superstitions!
Sunday April 11 First race 2.15pm Subject to Covid restrictions
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)