Racing: The Bailey pointer to bright future

Stephen Brenkley says Teeton Mill's mentor has a new star to follow
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The Independent Online
CAROLINE BAILEY has a stock response when asked if she will apply for a National Hunt trainer's licence. "Maybe," she will say, neutrally, and leave her questioners no wiser.

The query and the reply have received increasing airings lately and shortly after 4pm at Cheltenham on Thursday it is possible that the Guinness Book of Records may need to be approached to check if there have ever been more frequent uses of the exchange.

The reasons for this are Teeton Mill, heavily fancied in the Gold Cup, and Castle Mane, outright favourite for the Christie's Foxhunters' Chase which immediately follows. Bailey has large stakes (in most senses but a betting one) in both horses and her pragmatic attitude will do nothing to conceal the element of fairy-tale involved if either wins.

Such success, in that regard, would match the stupendous Grand National victory of Caroline's father, Dick Saunders. As a 48-year-old amateur rider he guided Grittar home at Aintree in 1982, the oldest winning jockey of all.

Until a year ago Teeton Mill was part of Bailey's family. He had been acquired as a foal and she trained him to be the most successful point- to-pointer in the country. He turned out to be better than she or her father could have imagined.

"When the The Winning Line came in with an offer for him it was simply too good to refuse," Bailey said. "We were sorry to lose him but he has gone on, hasn't he?" The 10-year-old grey has gone on indeed to be a prodigious steeplechaser - now under the tutelage of Venetia Williams - winning the Hennessy Gold Cup and the King George VI Chase this season.

Teeton Mill, named after the Northamptonshire village close to where Bailey trains a string of more than 20 point-to-pointers, has barely put a foot wrong. He has the turn of foot, he can make the distance and his jumping should be good enough.

Williams, understandably, will receive most of the plaudits if he wins, but the importance of his eight years in the care of Bailey and company will not be underestimated.

"Teeton Mill has the credentials to win at Cheltenham, I think. Some people have questioned his ability to get the distance and then his speed but he's done everything asked of him and he could win the Gold Cup."

Not that she will have time to answer interrogators if Teeton manages to collect the blue riband on Thursday. She will be much too busy seeing off Castle Mane, who has followed a similar route to point-to-point glory, in the Foxhunters'. The race is precisely to hunter chasers what the Gold Cup is to steeplechasers and victory for Castle Mane will hardly be less of a fantasy.

The owner, Charles Dixey, bought the chestnut with the white socks purely for fun but he has proved to be a formidable competitor. Unbeaten in his six point-to-points, he had his first outing in a hunter chase at Warwick last week and won stylishly. If that confirmed his presence in this year's Foxhunters' at Cheltenham it persuaded some observers to look to future Festivals and more significant races - like the Gold Cup itself. Bailey is refusing to be carried away.

"He has not come up against this class of hunter chaser before," she said. "It's impossible to say how he will cope and, while we don't bet, it's been surprising to see him installed as the 100-30 favourite. It's exciting but I don't feel a great deal of pressure. I think the horse will do the talking. He's either good enough or not but I don't think he'll let me down. He jumps well, he's strong, he's quick enough."

If he proves that quick, Bailey knows she will have to do yet more serious thinking on whether to turn her maybe into something more positive.