“I rode him out on Wednesday and he tried to kill me when I tacked him,” the jockey told The Yorkshire Post with a strange sense of relief. “He will try to kick you, bite you. He’s savage. If you give him time to think, he will do something silly. He’s a lot better now than he was – it hasn’t been easy.”
Such insight from Kim Bailey’s stables also explains why First Flow and Bass, now unbeaten in six successive steeplechase starts, are the perfect match.
After all, Bass is one of Britain’s fearless jockeys whose positivity in the saddle conjures some mesmerising jumps out of horses like First Flow and 2020 Festival winner Imperial Aura, one of the Ryanair Chase favourites.
He, too, is an unlikely jockey – his mother is a vicar; his family are musicians; he, himself, is vegan and he has strong views on current affairs. Debates with Bailey, his boss and archetypal country gent, can make PMQs look mild-mannered.
But he’s enjoying a career-best season – his 56 winners in the 2020-21 campaign now eclipse his tally of 55 two years ago – and he will be unfazed by the pressure of competing at the Cheltenham Festival.
That’s also because First Flow continues to surprise Bass and Bailey. After showing guts to win Wetherby’s rain-lashed Castleford Chase on December 27, he then ran his rivals ragged in the Grade One Clarence House Chase at Ascot after a memorable duel with 2020 Champion Chase hero Politologue.
“I would be lying if I thought after Wetherby he would be a Champion Chase horse,” said Bass. “It was virtually unraceable which I thought he would like. He did a give a hell of a lot of weight on that ground. In hindsight, it was a really good performance.”
Yet, while the Wetherby race was not easy on the eye, the Clarence House was exhilarating as Bass recorded his third Grade One career win. It was also the first at the highest level for the aforementioned Bailey since the 1995 Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup double with Alderbrook and Master Oats.
The jockey decided deliberately to allow First Flow, owned by Tony Solomons, to find his feet and allow Politologue to bowl along at the front under Harry Cobden.
Yet, as they galloped towards Swinley Bottom, the pace quickened, First Flow’s athleticism came to the fore on quicker ground and Politologue’s jumping came under pressure.
Bass knew, as a race-rider, this was how best to get the favourite beaten – the grey, he had said, had been the beneficiary of soft leads in his most recent wins.
At one point, he says, Cobden shouted at him to ask if he realised how far clear they were of their rivals and to effectively ease back. Bass feigned indifference; he wasn’t going to fall for such gamesmanship.
“Very satisfying,” says Bass. “To ride good horses in Grade Ones is hard. To get to ride in those races, and win them, it is brilliant. I feel very lucky. It was brilliant for the yard – and Kim (Bailey) who had not had a Grade One winner for 70 years!
“Kim and I, we are very different but we are probably not that different. We are both competitive and we both want the same things. It’s a good team down there and that’s what I like.
The jockey thrives on that team spirit in the Cotswolds – even on days when First Flow “reverses into a muck heap and falls over”. The camaraderie of stable staff brings the best out in their horses.
Bass knows First Flow will have to prove he can be effective on a left-handed track at the highest level, but he has no ground concerns after Ascot and says his mount is “a good each-way chance”.
And the jockey’s hopes for the week?
“The obvious answer is having a winner and everything running well,” adds Bass who has three Festival wins to his name.
“If I’m lucky enough to ride a winner, that’s great, but I really want to enjoy riding good horses.”
Even those as quirky as First Flow.
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