Kim Bailey was last night still trying to come to terms with losing Betty's Boy, who was 14-1 third favourite for Saturday's Grand National, who had to be put down after breaking a leg on the gallops yesterday morning.
Betty's Boy, winner of the National Hunt Chase at last year's Cheltenham Festival, was completing his preparation for Aintree when the incident occurred. Bailey said: "He fractured his near-hind joint. We sent him to Lambourn but we couldn't save him and he has been put down. He had just done his last piece of work with my claimer Chris Honour on. I don't know why or how it happened. I feel sorry for our staff who have done such a great job getting him ready for the National. It's just sod's law."
Any trainer would be shattered at losing such a good horse at such a crucial time, but Bailey may be better equipped than most to deal with the blow. It takes a good man to make light of an episode in his life that was publicly humiliating and privately distressing, but Bailey has proved up to the task before.
At his Northamptonshire stables this week, as you admired the young English bull-terrier bitch who was turning herself inside-out in greeting at your feet, he accepted the compliments on her behalf and added a few of his own. And then, mischievously, revealed one of life's little ironies.
"There aren't many of them available, and I bought her on the spot," he said. "They told me she was very well-bred, but when they sent her pedigree on I could hardly believe it. Her sire is called Stormin' Norman."
It was, of course, the human stormin' one - the jockey Williamson - who was one of the catalysts that brought Bailey to his present situation, starting over in Northamptonshire. Williamson's affair with Bailey's wife, Tracey, and the subsequent break-up of their marriage was followed by farcical conspiracy-to-burgle charges, later dropped. On the professional front, a virus was ravaging the ability of the horses in his care. It was time to leave the soap-opera fishbowl of Lambourn and seek out new life and new civilisations.
Bailey, aged 46, is something of a fatalist, and has rationalised that hurtful period as the harrowing episodes of his life begin to recede into the past. "What happened wasn't much fun," he said. "It isn't great to learn about your private life in the paper, and worse to know that your children and their schoolfriends are old enough and educated enough to read it.
"It was a wearing and trying time, but you do learn from that sort of experience. And I have had friends who have died young, which puts your own problems in perspective. You're only here for a short time, you might as well accept what has happened and get on with enjoying life. And I always meant to leave Lambourn at some point anyway."
Bailey's enthusiasm for his new venture is undisguised. Grange Farm, a charming, south-facing, red-brick house, and 65 clean, high acres just outside the village of Preston Capes, is being built from scratch as a racing yard. Three stables and an open-sided barn have been transformed into 72 American-style boxes (all full), tackrooms, offices, lads' accommodation and an enormous indoor arena wherethere is room for horses not only to limber up but school over steeplechase fences. Thefast work takes place on an uphill six-and-a-half furlong allweather strip.
Unsurprisingly, fresh air is a priority; the horses are kept happy and healthy by being turned out daily for a couple of hours in individual paddocks, where they can roll and mooch and behave, au naturel, like the species they are.
The place was the first Bailey viewed, within three days of instructing an estate agent, but his decision was based not on desperation but on his old friend, fate. His father used to train at Brackley, 10 miles away, and as a child he followed hounds over the rolling, very English landscape where the Grafton and Pytchley countries meet. Back to the future, if you like.
"We started building in August and moved here six weeks later," he said. "I think you could say it was pretty chaotic, if not sheer hell. By the end of the first week we had 40 horses in and all the lads had handed in their notice. We had no electricity, one tap, nothing but mud, and we're four miles from the nearest shop. We were saved by one of my owners, who lives locally and took eight of the lads in and fed, washed and warmed them. But there are times when the scale of what I've taken on makes me think I must be tonto."
Bailey's Alderbrook and Master Oats annus mirabilis is now five years adrift, but he is single-minded in his determination to regain his former status. He acknowledges that he is still on a learning curve with the new premises, but 30 winners, a place in the top 20 and an influx of new owners are more than satisfactory.
Betty's Boy's demise leaves Bailey's prospects of National success on Saturday - he has Cariboo Gold and Druid's Brook left in the race - distinctly limited. It is 10 years since he sent out Mr Frisk to win the National. "You don't actually realise how much winning the race means until you have to give back the trophy," he said. "It's the one everyone has heard of, the one that puts you in the public eye. I want to be successful again, I intend to be successful again, but the restarting and rebuilding is for myself, not to say 'up yours' to anyone."
There are losing lottery tickets in a bowl on the Grange Farm kitchen-window ledge. "Actually, I don't know whether I'd really want to win," said their owner. "If I did, it would take the challenge from life, and it's challenges that keep you going. I think I am happier now than I have ever been."Reuse content