Until 7.30 this evening, today was becoming a rare ray of sunshine in an otherwise grey and long January. A crisp sunny day after the wet and grey of the week's weather, Graded winners for two Andoversford trainers and Cheltenham Town going one up in the FA Cup 4th round against Manchester City looked like a day made in Heaven.
But as anyone in racing will tell you, triumph and disaster are two sides of the same coin, after an 81st minute equalizer set the tone for two more goals from a City side that wasn't going to be denied by a two-bit League 2 side. Well done the Robins; you've done us proud!
Kim Bailey is one man who knows something of the fickle nature of chance. This season's blistering run continued today when course and distance winner First Flow continued his staggering improvement by taking the scalp of Politologue in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot. This was Bailey's first Grade I winner since Master Oats completed the second leg of that memorable Champion Hurdle -Gold Cup double in 1995, originated by Alderbrook. And whilst Bailey - the Wilderness Years - might be a volume of interest to all us racing fans, it's a period Kim would rather put firmly into the annals of history.
To say his comeback to the big time is overdue is certainly a truism, but it's hardly been an overnight success. If you tracked your previous bets on Bailey horses in Grade I races, these past 25 years, the record would be sparse. It's 15 years since he moved to Foxcote, less than a mile from the Andoversford course, but it's only these past couple of years that the horses have realy begun to assert in elite company. His 42 winners this term have earned £450,132, putting him in with more than a good chance of capping his best ever season in 1994-5, if the momentum is maintained.
The road from the Andoversford cross roads to Withington houses not just Bailey's ascendant stable but Fergal O'Brien's too, another of the enduring success stories of the 2020-21 season. Fergal, perpetually labelled as the head lad who made good with moderate horses, has acquired himself new premises and a different grade of horse altogether. Small surprise he ranks sixth in the Trainers' Championship, when horses like 7 year old Irish ex-Pointer Silver Hallmark can cement their ranking with a Grade II victory in a Novices Chase at Haydock. This is a stable that can improve again to retain its place in the top rank season after season, and a queue of riders is knocking at the door to ride them, fended off by longtime friend and ally Paddy Brennan.
Haydock and Ascot in heavy ground in January are not Cheltenham and Aintree on good ground in Spring. But does it matter? Our local trainers are doing what they're supposed to; placing their horses to win on as regular an occasion as time, weather and fitness will permit.
I'd back them every time in this form over better known stables.
Fixture 2021 Cancelled
Look out for 2022 dates later in the summer
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)