RACING : Master Oats gives Bailey memorable double

CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP: First partnership for 45 years to take Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup

Three days ago Kim Bailey and Norman Williamson arrived here as perhaps the Festival's best losers, a leading trainer and jockey respectively with nothing to show for their many forays to the Cotswolds in March. Last night they left the spectre behind at Prestbury Park after becoming the first partnership for 45 years to complete the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup double.

Following Alderbrook's success on Tuesday, Master Oats was the horse to place the combination in the record books in a Blue Riband of molten intensity.

It had to be a race of enormity following a crackling build-up conducted as a huge rainbow formed behind Cleeve Hill. In the parade ring Jodami, the 1993 victor, looked a brutish animal, radiating strength, his head arched like a seahorse. Master Oats himself looked delightful, his chestnut skin patchy yet gleaming and his tail fanning out as if permed.

This condition had been achieved after the most unusual of preparations. Master Oats has in his log book an instance of breaking blood vessels and is consequently treated at home with the delicacy normally reserved for champagne flutes. His work on the Lambourn gallops rarely involves anything more strenuous than a canter, yet, ironically, he yesterday won a race that found out many hardy horses, a contest that examined every fibre.

Merry Gale, the Irish horse, and Monsieur Le Cure ensured it would be this way from the start, sweeping along as if the journey was a single circuit of the track. The pace unsettled many in behind, not least Master Oats himself. "They were going half a stride quicker than I wanted early on," Williamson reported. "I was trapped on the inner and we made a bad mistake at the first one down the hill second time round. I knew then I had to get out of there."

By that stage several others had already succumbed. Val d'Alene and Nuaffe had fallen, while Deep Bramble and Jodami were showing signs of desperation.

Then came the decisive moment. "By the water jump second time I wasn't happy and I didn't think I'd win," Williamson said. "But I pulled him wide, gave him a smack down the shoulder, and five strides later I thought it was mine. He just picked up and changed tune completely."

Algan and Barton Bank came crashing to earth, and at the top of the hill the gallant Merry Gale began to wane as Dubacilla emerged as the only challenger to Master Oats. The chestnut has stamina up to his ears, however, and in the straight he forged further clear. By the time his jockey stood up in the stirrups and shook his whip with emotion there were 15 lengths back to the mare.

Bailey had been in tears on Tuesday and if there was no flood yesterday there was certainly moisture around the bridge of his nose as he led in Master Oats. "I will never forget what has happened," he said. "I'm shell- shocked and I really can't believe it's happened."

When the reality emerges, Bailey will have to remember to collect the money he has won on Master Oats and Alderbrook. He backed them both ante- post at 50-1. Staff at his Upper Lambourn yard might like to hold him to the offer he made yesterday. "The money could pay for a new hostel for the lads," the trainer said.

Williamson himself was incredulous after a dismount which suggested his saddle has an ejector-seat facility. "This is what I've dreamed of all my life," he said. "From the moment you start riding a pony you want to win a race at Cheltenham and the peak is the Gold Cup."

Norman thanked Kim, and Kim thanked Norman, which might have been unthinkable for those who witnessed a conversation when the trainer first signed up Williamson as stable jockey. He suggested he should go for a riding lesson. "I thought it was crazy being sent to Yogi Breisner [the horse and jockey tutor]," the rider said. "But I went. And it was the best thing I've ever done."

For Williamson, and Bailey, there had been no need for self-justification, but there was nevertheless a sense of intense relief in the camp. The trainer insisted all week that he did not have to prove himself after winning a Grand National, but his mind contained a different message. "It's fine saying the pressure doesn't get to you but I had an awful feeling that I'd be standing out here saying that another year had passed me by," he said.

"I felt if we got to Thursday night without a winner you would see me hanging on a rope from the top of the stands." The only hanging to be done now, though, is with the black and yellow silks of Master Oats, which yesterday gloriously earned their place in the Festival Hall of Fame.

Results, report, racecards,

page 45

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