Kim Bailey is renowned as one of the great trainers in National Hunt racing, having produced winners in the Grand National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, as well as being our Clerk of the Course at Andoversford for many years.
Based just up the road from Andoversford, Bailey is in the perfect position to line up his charges for a run at Cheltenham Festival, although some time has passed since his last major triumph in the Gold Cup. Master Oats won the Gold Cup in 1995 with a fine performance, while Bailey also trained the winner of the 1990 Grand National – Mr Frisk.
Competition is intense for the major jumps races and Bailey among others has been squeezed out by Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott, who have dominated in recent years. The last few seasons have seen a resurgence of the glory years of the nineties however, following his move to Gloucestershire. And now, Bailey may have two charges in his yard that are capable of making a challenge in the 2020/21 campaign.
The seven-year-old enjoyed an excellent start to his career, winning his opening six races. Since then he has won one out of his last four outings, although it was expected given the improvement in the field around him.
He ran well against Defi Du Seuil and Lostintranslation in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase in 2019, placing in third in the contest – three lengths off the pace of the winner. On his bow at Cheltenham in the JLT Novices’ Chase, he was off the pace again behind the duo among others, placing in fifth.
The Irish thoroughbred proved his quality at the beginning of the last term with a fine performance to win the Sodexho Gold Cup Handicap Chase at Ascot, dominating the rest of the field. However, he was slightly underwhelming at Cheltenham Festival once again, finishing in fourth in the Ultima Handicap Chase. There will be indicators whether he will be able to challenge for major honours, beginning with the Lancashire Chase at Haydock Park. There will be quality contenders in the field, but Vinndication is backed in the horse racing betting odds at 20/1 to win the event. Bailey does have a quality charge at his disposal and Vinndication has shown signs that he is ready for the great challenges in the upcoming campaign. The seven-year-old is certainly one to watch for the campaign and could spring a surprise.
Bailey’s charge does have a win at the Festival already under his belt, having claimed the Northern Trust Company Novices' Handicap Chase crown in March. He was one of the leading contenders for the victory and did not disappoint with an accomplished display, finishing three-and-a-quarter lengths ahead of second-placed Galvin. The Irish thoroughbred has been a model of consistency during his nine-race career, earning a top-three finish in all of his outings.
It’s difficult to predict where Bailey will turn with Imperial Aura for the campaign, although his first destination will be Newbury.
He will face a strong field there with Topofthegame and Champ already mentioned in the antepost betting odds as the two leading contenders. That would suggest that he could be capable of mounting a charge at the RSA’ Novices Chase at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.
It all depends on how he fares in the early stages of the new season. Imperial Aura has met almost every challenge that has been thrown his way during his fledgling career thus far and eyebrows would not be raised if he were to take the step-up in 2021 and beyond.
Vinndication and Imperial Aura, rated 165 and 160 respectively, are the two highest rated horses in a yard where 73 individual horses ran last season, and which was on target to improve its 5 year average for winners and prize money won.
Meantime, Kim has made a promising start to the new season, totting up 5 winners from 35 runners, his most recent being yesterday at Fontwell, where Arthur's Sixpence won the 2m3f handicap chase with ease.
Going for Sunday April 3 - Good (Thursday)
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)