Why hasn’t Bristol De Mai become as beloved by the racing public as his fellow greys Desert Orchid and One Man were? Probably because the jumping world has become obsessed with the Cheltenham Festival and the best Bristol De Mai has achieved there is a third place in the 2019 Gold Cup. For quite some time Bristol’s trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies, has declared that his stable star has not been given the credit due to him and he has had good reason: after Bristol De Mai’s victory in Haydock Park’s Betfair Chase last weekend, there can be no doubt about his rightful place in the pantheon of top chasers. People like me who did not back him last Saturday at odds of 9-4 need their heads examining.
I didn’t do so because earlier in the week, in sunshine, I had backed Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation, who beat Bristol De Mai in the race last year, and because there was every sign that Paul Nicholls was making the Betfair Chase the principal target this season for his Clan Des Obeaux, twice a winner of the King George VI Chase at Kempton. Certainly, with Messrs Twiston-Davies, Tizzard and Nicholls having won 13 of the 15 Betfair Chases between them, there were only three serious candidates, and when on Saturday the Lancashire rain came down in torrents I groaned and regretted my bet. Jockey Daryl Jacob, riding Bristol De Mai, looked heavenwards with a smile and texted owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede saying: ‘I’ve never been so happy to ride in the rain.’
Bristol De Mai loves Haydock Park anytime and adores it when the ground gets heavy. He won the first two of his six races at the track by 32 and 22 lengths. In 2017 he won the Betfair Chase by 57 lengths from Cue Card, himself a three-time winner of the race for the Tizzards, and in 2018 he won it from the Tizzards’ Native River by four lengths. The only time Bristol De Mai had ever been beaten at Haydock was when he finished second to Lostintranslation in the 2019 Betfair on much dryer ground. This time you could tell after the first circuit that Lostintranslation was never going to get to Bristol De Mai, let alone pass one of the most resolute gallopers in the game who had no trouble fending off Clan Des Obeaux at the end of the race. Like the much-adored Cue Card, Bristol De Mai now has three Betfair Chases on his trophy shelf. Only Nicholls’s imperious Kauto Star had more, with four victories in the race. Point made for Nigel Twiston-Davies. Whatever he does at Cheltenham, Bristol is now one of the greats.
I had backed Lostintranslation because he had finished an impressive third in the 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup when the Tizzards’ other horses were out of sorts and because he was one of our Twelve to Follow last year. We had an early boost to this season’s Twelve when Kim Bailey’s Imperial Aura put in a scintillating round of jumping under David Bass to win Saturday’s Grade Two Chanelle Pharma Chase at Ascot. He looks a real hope for the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham and with their First Flow also a winner at Ascot the rebuilt Bailey yard is demonstrating real strength in depth.
Nobody looks more like the novelist’s version of a trainer than Kim Bailey with his Roman senator’s profile, trilby and elegant breast-pocket adornments, and his determination should not be doubted. Good enough to bring off the double of the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup in 1995 with Alderbrook and Master Oats, not to mention a Grand National with Mr Frisk in 1990, he suffered a decline in fortunes through stable moves from Lambourn to Northamptonshire and then back to Gloucestershire and viruses and flooded gallops that dropped his winner total to only three one year. Preferring the term ‘rejuvenated’ to ‘resurgent’, Kim Bailey has some good Saturday horses for the better-class races and the racing community is better for it. Imperial Aura, I hope, could take him back to the very top.
When it was announced that the government is finding £40 million for racing and £135 million for Rugby Union as part of a winter survival package for sport there was tabloid talk of help for ‘posh sports’. I can’t speak for Rugby Union, though I still bear the scars from student games against some thuggish police and even theological college sides (I guess they had tensions to work off). The Pontypridd front row might have some difficulty recognising the term. But though racing has its posh layers among officials and owners (for whose spare cash priorities we are eternally grateful), those who call it a posh sport have clearly never written out a bet in a smoke-filled betting shop, boarded a bus trip to the races or jostled at a racecourse bar counter. The likes of Paddy Power and Betway don’t direct their irritatingly garish TV advertising at some cosseted elite but at millions who like a bet and follow the sport.
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