It's been a great Saturday for our professional trainers here in Gloucestershire, taking the headlines at both ends of the country in some very valuable races.
The National Hunt season is more and more concentric around the big fixtures at weekends, notably Saturday, to the effect that big race horses are referred to as Saturday horses. With the exception of Boxing Day, New Year's Day, and the Aintree and Cheltenham Festivals, there's hardly a major race in the UK that isn't on a Saturday, unlike our Flat calendar, with notable mid-week Festivals throughout the summer.
And Andoversford's local scion, Kim Bailey, has a growing band of Saturday horses to fly the Foxcote flag. The Bailey camp is hot to trot at present, rattling along the score at a pleasing rate. This week's 15 runners had until today been a story of nearly horses; 3 runner-up berths during the week beaten by less than a length, but all changed today with an emphatic win in the Grade II Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase by Imperial Aura, last a convincing winner at Carlisle 3 weeks ago. There are ready quotes for the Ryanair Chase already for this smart horse, already a Festival winner of the now defunct Novices Handicap Chase. Readers of this column will recall Imperial Aura and Vinndication being two we recommended to follow.
Bailey followed up an hour later with 8 year old First Flow in the Hurst Park Handicap Chase, who won a neck from the Dan Skelton-trained Amoola Gold. David Bass had to work a little harder here just to stay in the plate after several mistakes.
Ascot is a course Bailey enjoys, and it shows. Among the Grade I courses, nowhere else does he enjoy a better strike rate, and it's a good place to choose. Outside Cheltenham, prize funds at Ascot rank next with some consistently top flight prize funds. Small wonder they hanker after taking over the King George from Kempton, especially after JCR's gaffe in indicating the venue would be sold.
Meanwhile Gloucestershire was represented in the Betfair Chase by Nigel Twiston-Davies' Bristol de Mai, a horse who seems to have been around a while, yet is still only 9. The 5 runner field for this first Grade I of the season was a little disappointing, but the result was anything but, as Bristol de Mai regained a race he's won twice already in its short life with a convincing defeat of Clan des Obeaux. There's little doubt that typical heavy Haydock ground favoured our local horse, but it takes both courage from the horse and application from the Naunton team to bring a horse to win a top calibre race 3 times (his other attempt a second placing). Daryl Jacob won't be the only one celebrating this evening and the Hollow Bottom will be gnashing their teeth that they can't be open for brisk business from the yard's lads. Rule of 6 lads!
The Cotswolds hadn't finished with the day's racing either. Charlie Longsdon kept up his tally in a valuable handicap chase at Haydock, and Fergal O'Brien continued his winning ways in the concluding long distance handicap chase.
Meanwhile, further afield, and not widely reported, Sophie Leech continued her campaign in France's more lucrative market, winning a £30,000 Hurdle race at Autueil with Clondaw Cian. Despite being rated 31lb lower than Imperial Aura, the 10 year old won a prize worth £4,081 more than at Ascot. For those that scoff at the lack of craic in French racing, in these behind closed doors empty racecourses, France is now looking a smart move for Sophie. Bonne chance!
Going for Sunday April 3 - Good (Thursday)
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)