Racing: Buoyant Bailey aims to be back at the top

The Grand National-winning trainer tells Chris McGrath why he is optimistic of reviving his career after a steep decline

During recent seasons, it has become tempting to view horses trained by Kim Bailey as driftwood, evocative of some distant, forgotten shore. His winners now, however, can perhaps be recognised as buds of renewal in a tree that once cast deep shade against the pitiless heat of his profession.

Bailey is the only contemporary trainer to have scaled all three jump racing pinnacles: Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle and Grand National. In 1995, when he won both the Cheltenham races within three days, this tall, urbane figure seemed to bestride the sport. Within five years, he had somehow been banished to its periphery.

If there were one or two upheavals, personal or professional, then they were scarcely sufficient to explain his bewildering decline. Seeking a fresh start, he moved from Lambourn to Northamptonshire - and from frying pan to fire. His new gallop was washed away. His new Aintree hope, Betty's Boy, broke a leg in his final work before the race. Over his last two seasons there, Bailey scraped together just a dozen winners. Yet if racing is ruthless in letting people down, it is no less so in refusing to release them. Stubborn in his addiction and belief, last year Bailey sold up and leased farmland on a voluptuous sweep of the Cotswolds near the village of Andoversford, teasingly within reach of Cheltenham. He took just seven weeks to install stabling and a steep five-furlong gallop.

"The hardest thing was to admit that it had been a failure," he said yesterday, reflecting on six years in Northamptonshire. "But the place had become a noose round my neck. We had empty boxes, and it simply wasn't viable. It was hard ringing round the owners, who have been so supportive. But they could see the sense of the move. And now they can all see the difference in me, and in the horses."

Even on a morning like this, when the wind spat across the swollen Windrush, it was obvious that this place must be Eden on a summer evening. Having arrived only in September, Bailey will have to take that on trust - something that fits admirably, at 53, with his revived spirits. "This is for when we win the National," he said, opening a giant, empty barn, just along from the one already housing 36 boxes, and horses "good, bad and indifferent". The one who best condenses his trainer's fortunes is Longshanks, with a depressing final season in Northamptonshire and an ambitious future. Jarred up after his only run last winter, he won impressively at Newbury in November and is again being aimed at the National, having just missed the cut two seasons ago.

"Hopefully we'll get in this time, now that he is rated 139," Bailey said. "He'll go to Haydock on 17 February - just after the weights come out - so long as the ground isn't too heavy." Always a natural communicator, Bailey registers 1,000 hits a day on his website, many doubtless stimulated by the authentic tone of his diary. But he knows no better evangelism than winners. "We need some new pictures in here," he said, gesturing at the photos of Mr Frisk, Master Oats, Alderbrook. "There's never any point looking back. We haven't any star horses, so we need to win with what we have, and hopefully they'll start coming back. I'd love to get back up to 60. And of course the great thing with horses is that you never really know what's coming through."

After taking a while to bed down, Bailey has saddled four winners from his last nine runners - three of them in barely an hour at Huntingdon on Boxing Day. Admittedly, one was indebted to a late faller, and another to a disqualification, but this change of luck was surely overdue. "That was a real boost," he said. "Everyone seemed to notice, we got so many messages you would have thought we had won the National." Bailey has palpably gained perspective and inspiration from the recovery of J P McNamara after a terrible fall last year. "J P was told he would never walk again, but he was here the other day and did 15 steps without crutches," he said. "He was never going to accept it, and he's getting there through sheer willpower. His fellow jockeys have been fantastically supportive, and the public, too. But the whole thing makes you realise how fragile we all are."

And his dignity and humility now suggests this discovery to be more than merely physical. "We had some great years in Lam- bourn," he said. "Whether someone was telling us we had overplayed our luck, I don't know. We had that knockdown. But I feel a much better person for it. I never felt embittered. Frustrated, yes. But I have always felt lucky to be able to do something I love, and still get huge satisfaction from a winner, no matter how small. It's all about the owners, their faith, and the fulfilment they get. That's why you do your utmost. And I am certain this place is going to work for us."

Chris McGrath

Nap: Beldon Hill

(Wolverhampton 4.30)

NB: Norton Sapphire

(Huntingdon 12.50)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her