Bradley turns a nightmare into a dream

CHAMPION HURDLE: Collier Bay beats the favourite Alderbrook at the Cheltenham Festival after fate smiles on a sleepy jockey
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reports from Cheltenham

They say it succeeds in Hollywood and it worked for Graham Bradley at Cheltenham yesterday. The jockey slept his way to the top when he partnered Collier Bay to victory in the Champion Hurdle.

He should have ridden the hot favourite, yesterday's runner-up Alderbrook, but was divorced from that horse when he overslept and missed a recent appointment with Kim Bailey's runner on the gallops. He only partnered Collier Bay after the gelding had been discarded by Jamie Osborne. "Fate has given me this win," he said. "It's typical of racing and the ups and downs."

Bradley was not in such good humour after a rather pleasant evening at the Foley Lodge at Newbury last month. "I went to Dean Gallagher's [a fellow jockey] birthday party and left at 1.30 in the morning," he said. "I was pretty drunk to be honest. I would have made it for 10 o'clock on the gallops, but there was a power cut in my area and the alarm clock didn't go off. I made Southern Electric send me a telegram about when the power cut was.

"I woke up at 20 past and rang Mr Bailey to tell him I'd be there in 10 minutes. He told me to go back to bed. It was a nightmare because I thought Alderbrook was a good thing. I thought I'd missed a Champion Hurdle winner, but I haven't.

"I was lucky again when Jamie chose Mysilv [who finished sixth] instead of Collier Bay because it looked like being good ground. Then the rain and snow came to change the going in my favour."

This victory came 13 years after Bradley won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Bregawn. He said: "I was very young then and a lot of water has passed under the bridge since."

Much of it was rather murky too, as the jockey was implicated in the disappointing performance of several horses. But after a period in the wilderness he has returned to establish himself as one of the nation's top riders. He has always been a hugely popular figure in the weighing room.

There is affection to spare, too, for Collier Bay's trainer, Jim Old, who has developed self-depreciation into an art form. With a coiffure which is more hair-don't than hair-do, and a permanent cigarette in his hand, he could be the bloke in the betting shop.

Yesterday, with a tear in his eye, the man who trains at Wroughton in Wiltshire described how this was the culmination of almost 25 years with a licence. "This has always been the race I have wanted to win, above all others," he said. "The Gold Cup is a dream factory, the Grand National a lottery. But with this race I feel that you can buy a horse that can win it."

It is an irony that when Old purchased Collier Bay, Bailey was the underbidder. The roles were reversed when Alderbrook walked into the auction ring. In the circuit of the parade ring yesterday, it was the latter who commanded more attention, two attendants at his side and security men at his tail.

In the race itself, Mysilv, as expected, was the pathfinder as the checked colours of Collier Bay were transported with great ease just in behind. "He was incredible," Bradley reported. "I bounced him out and he jumped lovely, travelling like a very good horse all the way.

"I went past Jamie and he let me have a few expletives when he realised he had chosen the wrong one. He said bleep, bleep, bleep. After the last I didn't look back and I've no idea how much I won by."

It was two and a half lengths, actually, from Alderbrook, who some sages thought was given too much to do by Richard Dunwoody. However, the seven- year-old increased his advantage over several horses he had beaten in last year's race.

Pridwell was third and Danoli, the darling of Ireland who was cheered from the moment he came into public view, struggled on into fourth.

On his way back on Collier Bay, who became the first horse since Dawn Run in 1984 to complete the Irish Champion Hurdle and Cheltenham double, Bradley knew what the main line of questioning would be. He started tapping the space where his watch should be.

By then, though, time had run out for Mack The Knife, who shattered a pastern before the last and had to be put down. This completed a devastating afternoon for the trainer and owner team of Martin Pipe and Darren Mercer, who had also lost the greatly promising Draborgie in the preceding Arkle Chase.

Cheltenham Festival, page 22

Champion Hurdle

1 COLLIER BAY G Bradley 9-1

2 Alderbrook R Dunwoody 10-11 fav

3 Pridwell C Maude 33-1

16 ran. 21/2l, 6l. Winner trained by J Old at Wroughton.

Tote: pounds 10.30; pounds 2.20, pounds 1.40, pounds 9.50. Dual Forecast: pounds 7.10. Computer Straight Forecast: pounds 17.02. Trio: pounds 199.70.