Can First Flow and trainer Kim Bailey cause a stir at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival?

For trainer Kim Bailey, another Grade 1 victory had been a long time coming. You’d have to go back over 25 years, to a different time and a different world, to find Bailey’s last major winner – Master Oats in the 1995 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

But victory came in the end, and with it came the emotion and pent-up agony of never quite reaching that upper echelon of trainers that Bailey’s Gold Cup win once heralded. As First Flow crossed the line in first place in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot, Bailey had another Grade 1 win to savour.

“I was absolutely staggered, to be honest, because we both felt the ground wasn’t going to be soft enough and that if he had finished third he would have done very well. I admit I didn’t expect him to improve like that,” said an elated Bailey.

“I’m so pleased for the owner Tony Solomons, who is my longest-standing patron. He’s 92 and has been with me for 40 years, showing that loyalty is a great thing in life.”

To reward that loyalty and savour the taste of top-level victory will be something that Bailey will want to experience again soon, and with the Cheltenham Festival just around the corner, perhaps there is more glory in the offing for the 67-year-old trainer, who earned one of horse racing’s biggest prizes at the Prestbury Park meeting 26 years ago.

First Flow’s odds for the Queen Mother Champion Chase have now been slashed from around the 50/1 mark to somewhere in the region of 8/1, proof of the impact success can have on a horse’s reputation. It’s that time of year when horse racing fans and punters are examining the early Cheltenham Festival 2021 odds, and First Flow’s performance at Ascot might just make them sit up and take notice.

The nature and style of First Flow’s victory in the Clarence House Chase is the reason why many now look on him favourably with the Champion Chase in mind. The win extended his and jockey David Bass’s unbeaten run to six races, but this was by far the most significant of the lot, largely due to the competition they faced in the Ascot race.

Among the runners were last year’s Cheltenham Champion Chase winner Politologue, who started the race looking like it was his to lose, but First Flow went with him and stayed the course tremendously well, eventually pulling clear to win the race by a distance. Other Cheltenham contenders were involved, including the likes of Defi Du Seuil, Bun Doran and Waiting Patiently, but First Flow showed why he’s a name to be feared on the Cheltenham card.

The nine-year-old has been building up nicely towards Cheltenham, and it would be a sweet moment for Bailey if he could upset the apple cart at Prestbury Park, and leave the big names of Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and Nicky Henderson reeling.

But for now, Bailey can content himself in this seismic triumph at Ascot, taking pride in seeing and the significance it holds. After years of toil and hard graft, perhaps First Flow is the horse that will finally propel him onto National Hunt racing’s top table once again.