End of an era at leading yard

  • Posted: Tuesday, 19th July 2022
  • Author: Carl Evans
  • Photo: Carl Evans

One of British point-to-pointing’s most influential yards has saddled its final runner.

Northamptonshire trainer Gerald Bailey has followed news that his wife Caroline is handing in her training licence by saying his point-to-point yard is being mothballed.

Bailey (pictured above) said: “It’s very sad and I’m feeling very emotional about it. The problem is nothing to do with a love of the sport or lack of horses, it’s all about getting and keeping staff, as simple as that. You cannot do it properly and be fair to the horses without staff.”

With 190 point-to-point winners and eight hunters’ chase successes Bailey has run one of the Midlands’ most successful yards, one he took on in the 2006/07 season when his wife was granted a licence to train under Rules. It was a smooth transition, with Bailey responsible for 17 winners in his first season and 20 the next, rising to a high of 23 winners in the 2010/11 season. Evidence that patient training methods were little changed could be seen in Gunmoney, who made his debut for Bailey as a five-year-old and was still running ten years later having won 18 point-to-points and gaining places in a further 16.

Gunmoney, who won 18 point-to-points and a hunters' chase for Gerald Bailey, pictured with rider John Russell.

The yards tally of pointing victories had become single figures in recent years, although the latest season included some highs and a further seven winners. Go Go Geronimo’s close seconds in the intermediate race at Cheltenham’s evening meeting and the Champion Novices’ Hunters’ Chase at Stratford stood out.

Bailey said: “The decision has not been taken lightly and there’s been a lot of emotion and tears. It’s been a difficult decision, but not one we wanted to take half-way through a season. I still want to be involved in so many ways and I am happy to help – Caroline is the same. She doesn’t know what she’s going to do, but she’s not the sort to sit about and she has a lot to offer and a lot of experience. No end of good riders have ridden winners for the yard, and pretty much all of Dan Skelton’s team [of jockeys] gained experience here at one time or another.

“I’m planning on having a pointer in partnership with my good mates John Sharp and Dave Docker, possibly trained by Stuart Morris, and I’m not going to disappear whatever happens. Once you’ve been involved in this sport you cannot just give it up, and I’ve been lucky to be involved with winners at Cheltenham and Punchestown, although nothing could beat the day Secret Bay and Gunner Welburn jumped the last fence at Aintree [2001 Foxhunters’ Chase] – we didn’t know which one to cheer on.”

Bailey married into a racing and hunting dynasty when walking up the aisle with Caroline Saunders, whose parents Dick and Pam had been amateur riders of note. At the age of 48 Dick rode the 1982 Grand National winner Grittar – he had won the Cheltenham and Aintree Foxhunters’ Chases on the same horse – and he went on to take numerous high-ranking administrative roles within racing and pointing. Caroline, who at 18 became the first woman to ride a winner at Cheltenham, seized the opportunity to begin training pointers when in the 1980s her father converted a number of buildings at his Holdenby Lodge Farm into stables.

The winners flowed, and while the Dorset stables of Richard Barber and Robert Alner were producing a steady stream of talented horses, for achievements in hunters’ chases Caroline’s yard was hard to beat.

Teaplanter won 24 hunters’ chases and was placed at the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals, while Teeton Mill collected Stratford’s Champion Hunters’ Chase before being sold into Venetia Williams’ yard and landing the King George VI Chase. Secret Bay was twice runner-up in Aintree’s Foxhunters’ Chase, on the second occasion to his stablemate Gunner Welburn, while Castle Mane headed this glittering parade of talent with victory in Cheltenham’s Foxhunters’ Chase plus successes at the top of the hunters’ chase tree at Stratford and Punchestown.

Dick Saunders died in 2002 having been a huge influence behind the scenes, but his daughter went on to establish herself as a successful licence holder, saddling 284 winners in Britain, headed by Crosspark’s success in the 2019 Eider Chase.