Trainer, Kim Bailey has a formidable track record in jump racing; he’s the only trainer on the go to have won the Grand National, the Gold Cup and the Championship Hurdle: a stunning record he carries with considerable charm and professional sangfroid. His blog – Bailey’s Blog – is as entertaining as it is informative and with some strong, promising horses in his new yard at Andoversford, glory on this scale could again be his.
As he rattled up the road in a horsebox to Catterick, to run Sparville in the 3.50, Kim was generous enough to share his thoughts on the Cheltenham Festival (12 -14 March); his hopes for The Rainbow Hunter in the Grand National, Harry Topper’s chances and how it feels to win the big races.
Q. The Rainbow Hunter is in to run in both the JLT Specialty Handicap Chase and the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase, how do you decide which race will suit him? And how do you rate his chances?
A. Just to confuse the issue we have decided to miss Cheltenham with The Rainbow Hunter and just concentrate on getting him to this year’s Grand National in top form. He could easily have a very hard race at Cheltenham. He was entered as his owners were not sure about running in the GN so Cheltenham was a back up. They have now all decided to go to Aintree. It is their dream!
Q. Of course, the big one coming up for Rainbow Hunter is the Grand National. He’s on the small side for Aintree – how do you think he’ll fair?
A. Yes he is on the small size as was Red Rum and others who have won. Size is not that important, it is all about how they jump and how agile they are. I believe The Rainbow Hunter has all of these and could well surprise in the race (hope so !) He will of course jump Grand National style fences in Lambourn before the race. All good practice.
Q. Earlier in the season you said Harry Topper was the best horse you’ve had since Master Oats – how do you feel now we’re nearing the close, with a couple of significant wins at Exeter and Newbury under his/your belt?
A. Yes I do believe that Harry Topper is the best horse I have had for a while. He has won 3 out of his 4 races impressively over fences this season. The trip to your local course Kelso last weekend blotted his copybook when unseating in what was or should have been a very easy race for him.
Q. It’s been a bit will he/won’t he as to whether Harry Topper will run at Cheltenham – will he?
A. I was never very keen although one of his owners, who also bred him, was very, very keen to run. No he will not be going to Cheltenham this year… Next I hope
Q. When it comes to your jockeys Jason McGuire and Nick Schofield, do you have an ideal horse and rider preference?
A. I am a huge fan of Jason Maguire and believe him to be the best jockey in this country, as good as APMcCoy. Nick Scholfield is a young man going places fast and a very different sort of rider. Jason is aggressive and a great race reader while Nick is patient, and although a great race reader too, he is very quiet in comparison. Put them together and you would have a very special rider.
Q. You have a number of other runners at Cheltenham, who should we be looking out for – any less fancied horses that may do well?
A. Milord if he gets in the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle. Bought in Germany and sold off my web site with Cheltenham in mind. These sort of plans and promises don’t normally work, so it would be great if he did get there and would certainly have an each way chance. He would have 10 very happy owners who all are excited just to be even going.
Q. Other than seeing your own horses win, who else will you be looking out for?
A. Sprinter Sacre is the most exciting horse I have seen for many years and can’t wait to see him demolish the field and become the next face of racing. He is something very, very special
Q. You’ve won both the Gold Cup (Master Oats 1995) and the Grand National (Mr. Frisk 1990) – how do the wins compare?
A. Oh so very different. The Gold Cup is the professional’s race and the purist’s race. It is like winning Wimbledon of you are a tennis player, or The Ashes for a cricket team.
The Gold Cup is the best race for the best horse in the country. It really throws up a fluke unlike the Grand National.
The Grand National is a race everybody has heard of and when I won it I received a letter addressed to Kim Bailey, Trainer of The Grand National, England. Posted from Sydney. It was from Max Whitby, who like me was 19 when Max and I ran a Restaurant in Sydney called Harpoon Harry’s .
Max and I used to talk, after closing up, about what we dreamed of for the future. Max’s was to own a chain of hotels and mine to win the Grand National. Inside the envelope the letter said, “I have only met one Kim Bailey if it is the same one then well done!, ”
Max made it and owned a chain of hotels, which he has just sold!
Q. What’s your favourite race at Cheltenham and do you attend the Festival even if you have no runners?
A. The Queen Mother Champion Chase. Would love to win it. Yes I go all 4 days. Would not miss it
Q. There’s been a lot of talk about a Kim Bailey resurgence, a return to your winning form of ’90s, what’s made the difference? Is it the move to Thorndale Farm, the horses?
A. You are only as good as your horses and your staff. I have both and my new base is a huge help. A great place and area to train.
Q. Do you have an all time favourite horse?
A. Alderbrook. Although a colt he was tough as you could ever get, although sadly one of the unsoundest. He was plagued with problems, which made his achievements even more special
Q. An all time favourite track?
Q. And a favourite Scottish track?
A. I just love going to Perth and have been going there for years. Now if I am seen there they all assume I must be fishing close by.
Kelso is great and they look after staff wonderfully which is hugely appreciated.
You also have Ayr but Perth and Kelso come on top. They are here great courses. You are lucky.
Q. Have you/would you ever consider training flat horses?
A. I have had the odd flat horse but I so prefer jumping. Great people involved in our sport. Too late to change although if my son wanted to train I would recommend he went the flat racing route.
Q. What do you consider the issues in jump racing today?
A. We all gripe about prize money as it is lower than 20 years ago. Costs have escalated since. I know we’re an entertainment business but prize money filters down to those who work in the sport in prize money percentages. Everything you do as a hobby costs money so perhaps owners should not complain but we are also a business.
Novice chasing has become a big bug bear but with a bit of luck that will change next season. We need to qualify now by running in one race and that sounds easy but it can take some horses 2 months before they run again, which for the owners is a waste of money.
I could go on forever but in the end I love doing what I do and am incredibly lucky in that respect. We work round our gripes.
Postscript: Sparville came second at Catterick, something Kim’s none too pleased about. He hates second and he’s in the mood for winners. We’ll be glued to Cheltenham hoping he gets them and our nails will be bitten to the quick on Grand National Day.
Good luck Kim, and thank you for taking the time.