Bailey not afraid of Clarence House duo

Kim Bailey is refusing to blink at the prospect of his stable star First Flow facing two-mile heavyweights Shishkin and Energumene in Saturday's SBK Clarence House Chase at Ascot and the trainer insists clashes such as this weekend's can only be beneficial to the long-term health of the sport.

Bailey, who has had a licence for more than 40 years and has a Grand National, Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle on his CV, enjoyed one of the sweetest moments of that long career when First Flow, under a bold ride by David Bass, landed the Clarence House 12 months ago.

He was a 14-1 shot that afternoon and can be backed at a general 6-1 this time round, although his task might be complicated by the presence of fearsome chasers Shishkin and Energumene, who are set to dominate headlines this week.

ITV Racing's Ed Chamberlin likened the showdown to a clash between Manchester United and Liverpool, although Tottenham Hotspur fan Bass joked it would be unfair to compare the Peterborough Chase winner to his team given First Flow has "actually won something recently".

Bailey hosted the media at his Gloucestershire yard on Tuesday morning when the Tony Solomons-owned ten-year-old performed two routine canters under Bass.

"I think it was probably a career-best in the Peterborough last time," Bailey said. "I'd been saying for ages he'd stay further and that was an opportunity as we had him in the Tingle Creek the day before. He was trained for that weekend and, at the age of nine rising ten, we found out a bit more about him.

"He needs to go right-handed and loves the track, so he can go for this and then back there for the Betfair Ascot Chase next month. If we missed this, the weather could then play havoc and he's got to run; he's not a young horse.

"I've always worked on the theory you shouldn't be frightened of one, but I should probably say I shouldn't be frightened of two!

"They're very good and their record speaks for itself. One [Shishkin] is rated 172 and the other [Energumene] 171 and we're 162, so on the ratings we've got no chance, but you've got to go for it.

"We promote racing to have good racing and if I duck this, or anybody does, it's not going to look good for racing, although I know Ed Chamberlin said he couldn't wait to watch those two, almost forgetting any other horse in the race."

Asked if that miffed him, Bailey, perhaps with just half his tongue in his cheek, replied: "I was furious! I really don't mind, but he's my golden boy and not to have your golden boy mentioned in the same breath is slightly disappointing.

"He won the race last year, is a better horse at Ascot than anywhere else and we go there knowing the horse is in a good place. Is he good enough? Probably not, but so what? If we finish third we'll get good prize-money and we shouldn't be avoiding each other.

"We've an opportunity for three top horses to take each other on and it'll be great for racing."

The Nicky Henderson-trained Shishkin, who won last season's Arkle, is a general 1-2 to extend his unbeaten run over fences to seven, while Energumene, a flawless five from five in chases, is 9-4, although his participation has yet to be confirmed by Willie Mullins.

'The most charming man'

Tony Solomons, the nonagenarian owner of SBK Clarence House contender First Flow, is unlikely to be at Ascot on Saturday to watch his pride and joy bid for back-to-back victories in the race, but trainer Kim Bailey would dearly love to provide him with an early birthday present.

London-based Solomons, who turns 92 next Wednesday, has been a fan of the sport for decades and was involved in former Bailey favourite Harry Topper and owned Nearly Caught, a Group 2-winning stayer on the Flat for Hughie Morrison.

"I don't think he'll be there, but he's been my longest-standing owner," said Bailey, who began his career in 1978 but joked: "He was with me since my second season training – so that must be about 15 years!

"He approached me and sent me a horse when I was in East Ilsley, and he's had several Flat trainers, but only one jumps trainer.

"He was chairman of Singer & Friedlander, a private bank, and they sponsored a National trial at Uttoxeter, and he's the most charming man. He used to have some great lunches and it was at one of those I sold Cenkos to Andy Stewart.

"Tony has had a lot of horses with me, although never more than one, possibly two, at a time and I remember buying a horse from France for him, and within five days it got killed.

"He hadn't seen the bill or the horse and it was knocked down to me. He said we better replace him, so I sold him a share in Harry Topper – not many owners would have done that, as the horse was my property, I'd bought it. That gives you an idea about the man and his mettle."