Bailey refuses to be a past master

Richard Edmondson meets the trainer who brings out his Gold Cup winner tomorrow with his ambition still burning

One family ceremony that will not be played out these long winter nights at Kim Bailey's house is children being bounced on the knee as the scrapbooks and albums of achievement are spread over the carpet.

Bailey, more than most, could easily bathe in the warmth of recent results following his Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle double at this year's Cheltenham Festival. But the moment the Upper Lambourn trainer's mind drifts off to Cheltenham last March he snaps himself back to the present.

At the age of 42, Bailey believes his greatest days are ahead of him and he does not intend to be distracted by a record that would already be enough for a lifetime for many in his trade. "I have got to start all over again," he said this week. "That's past and there's no point looking at the history, you've got to look to the future."

Bailey is buoyed in his 17th restart as a trainer by a great appetite for the game. After the cock crows in Upper Lambourn, the next noise may be the trainer's hands crashing together and rubbing in anticipation. "I love doing what is a hobby," he added. "Nothing is an anticlimax for me."

There is a word in the sporting lexicon which is considered dirty, but at the Old Manor Stables it is welcomed over the threshold and asked to stay for as long as possible. The word is pressure. Bailey rather likes the idea of critical eyes tracing his supervision of animals with skyscraper reputations. "I'm not worried about the pressure now and I wasn't worried about the pressure last year," he said. "It's the one thing you want to have, the one thing you're after.

"If you don't have pressure it means you haven't got the horses and you haven't got there. I'm in the lucky position of having pressure, if you like, and it's been a great treat."

Bailey will hope for a Groundhog Season this campaign and the first snippet of evidence will be provided tomorrow when Master Oats, the Gold Cup winner, attempts to follow up last year's success in Chepstow's Rehearsal Chase.

Twelve months ago, the chestnut won when only third favourite and third down in the weights, and it is a measure of his improvement that he now has to give an animal of the ability of Bradbury Star 12lb. Even so, his is not considered a forlorn hope. "He's a bit straighter than at the corresponding time because, touch wood, he's had an uninterrupted preparation," Bailey said. "He looks stronger than he was this time last year and he is only a nine-year-old, after all. I'd like to think he was getting a little better, but until he hits the racecourse it's terribly difficult to say."

It is an idiosyncrasy of the great horse that while he possesses the frame that crashed through fences at Cheltenham last year and also took him over the black obstacles of Aintree, he is in fact as delicate as a flamingo. A medical record of burst blood vessels means he is handled like fresh eggs at home.

This may also explain why the standing of another, younger horse at Bailey's Old Manor yard has jumped in the Gold Cup ante-post market. The pretender's name is Book Of Music. "He does all his work with Master Oats, they go out with each other every single day," Bailey revealed.

While Book Of Music regularly dominates these workouts, he is beating a vehicle which still has the hand brake on. At around 10-1 for the Festival, the eight-year-old is considered to be some way from value by his trainer. "I can't understand his price," Bailey said. "It's ridiculous. He's run over 15 fences in his life and now he's third favourite for the Gold Cup. That's stupid."

More deserving of his price, as long as the with-a-run proviso is attached, is Alderbrook, the Champion Hurdler, who is on his way back after attention from the surgeon's glinting scalpel. "The horse is walking at the moment and he won't start cantering for a couple of weeks," Bailey said. "We're miles away, but that's not a great problem as there's only one race I'm interested in with him and that's the Champion Hurdle again."

Much of Alderbrook's build-up work has been aquatic, on a treadmill covered by a volume of water close to the amount that came out of Bailey's eyes last March. At Prestbury Park the relief of training his first Festival winner was such that he broke down on the shoulder of his rival and friend, Oliver Sherwood.

For Bailey, though, that will be one of the few occasions he has looked over a shoulder. This year, and always, he will consider the meaningful part of life is in front of him.

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