The first colts’ Classic of the year has been won by all shapes and sizes, but invariably the common denominator over the past 30 years has been that the winner came with a prohibitive price tag from an early age.
That was not the case in 1994, as the instantly recognisable white face of Mister Baileys stormed to success in as competitive a renewal of the 2,000 Guineas as one can recall, but one that turned virtually into a two-horse race for the spoils.
His career orchestrated in Middleham, Mister Baileys became the first horse trained in Yorkshire to win an English Classic since Mrs McArdy had triumphed in the 1977 1,000 Guineas for Mick Easterby. There would be plenty more Classic and Group One glories to follow in the years ahead for horses based in the White Rose county of North Yorkshire and in particular in Middleham!
That Mister Baileys was purchased for a relatively modest sum as a yearling earned him added appeal to many race goers and some 21 years on, he remains a horse held warmly in the hearts and memories of many racing fans.
With this year’s Qipco Guineas Festival fast approaching, Course-specialist is privileged to share some of trainer Mark Johnston’s treasured memories of the colt that gave him his first major breakthrough in what has become a hugely successful training career.
When did you first get to train Mister Baileys and what was his background before he came to Middleham?
“He came to me as a late yearling or early 2yo. Paul Venner (Managing Director of Baileys Horse Feeds) had bought him as a foal for 10,00Gns. He returned him to Tattersalls as a yearling and I was told to buy him for Baileys Horse Feeds up to 15,000Gns. After that he was to be let go.
“I remember that Michael Bell and Giles Bravery were bidding on him. The bidding stopped at 10,000Gns and so I bid 10,500. They both looked round, saw it was me (they would know that there was an association between me and the owner), and stopped bidding. He was knocked down to me for 10,500Gns. Paul Venner took him home and broke him before sending him to me.”
Was his ability obvious from the outset? Was he a very quirky horse to train?
“He was a very easy horse to train. Paul told me before he sent him that he was the nicest he’d had. I also well remember Sally Hall coming up to me on the gallops long before he had run, pointing to him, and saying, ‘what’s that colt by?’ I told her he was by Robellino and she said, ‘I think I’ll send a mare to Robellino’.
“When he ran first time out at Newcastle, Colin Platts, Sally’s partner, came up to me and asked, ‘is that Sally’s Robellino colt?’ I knew what he meant and said ‘yes’. I think that all shows that he was a very imposing horse from a very early stage.”
Of course you had Double Trigger from the same generation – how did the two horses compare at home? Did you ever work them against each other?
“They were very different creatures. Both weighed almost exactly the same but Double Trigger was taller and much narrower as you would expect of a stayer.
“They worked together at least once that I can remember, early in 1994 on Middleham Low Moor in very soft ground. Double Trigger went the best of the two which, if you knew how Double Trigger worked at home, was completely ridiculous. That simply told us that Mister Baileys wouldn’t go a yard on soft ground and convinced us that we would need to take him to a racecourse before the Guineas.”
As a two year old, Mister Baileys got off to a winning start at Newcastle over 6 furlongs in June before stepping up in class for the Donnington Castle Stakes at Newbury, where he finished third to Classic Sky. He then impressed in the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood and was well supported in the market – had you been confident of success beforehand and had he improved much between Newbury and Goodwood?
“I was as confident as I could ever have been at that stage of my career. I don’t know that he had improved from Newbury to Goodwood or that he needed to. He should never have been beaten at Newbury. You’d need to ask Dean McKeown how you get a horse of Mister Baileys’ class boxed in, in a five horse race at Newbury. Classic Sky was a pretty good horse but the second horse ended its career still a maiden, rated 72, after 10 starts.”
At that stage did you feel you had a Guineas – or possibly Derby horse on your hands? If so, were you purely focussed on his juvenile career or effectively working backwards from Newmarket?
“I think we were just focussing on his 2 year old career at that stage. It was after he won the Royal Lodge that we really started to think we had a Derby horse. We weren’t thinking Guineas until later.”
What did you attribute his disappointing Gimcrack run to?
“Again, you’d have to ask others. The stewards had me in afterwards and asked me to explain his poor run. I wasn’t in the best of moods and said something like ‘maybe he’s not good enough’. The senior handicapper, Geoffrey Gibbs was standing at the back of the room and he said, ‘I can assure you, Mr. Johnston, your horse is good enough’. He was right.”
He then stepped up to a mile for the Royal Lodge Stakes at Ascot. How confident were you that he would get the trip in those conditions? Were there any initial plans to run him again in 1993 or was it an easy decision to put him away until the spring?
“At that time we thought the horse was going to be a middle distance horse. It was much later that we realised he simply didn’t stay. So, at the time, we were confident.”
Did Mister Baileys develop much over the winter physically and mentally? When did he first start back into serious work?
“He started back cantering straight after the New Year. I think he did improve physically.”
Had he improved from two to three?
“Certainly but he was a very good 2 year old. Undoubtedly he was underrated.”
Was there a breakthrough moment in his Guineas preparation when you felt confident he could win the Guineas and was ready? Perhaps a memorable gallop?
“Yes. We did two racecourse gallops. The first, at Thirsk was with some moderate types and he won it easily.
“The next, and last, just a week before the Guineas (I think), was at Ripon over the full mile trip. Jason (Weaver) rode Mister Baileys, Bobby Elliott rode Beware of Agents and Debbie Kettlewell (then our head girl) jumped in as they came into the straight on our best older sprinter, Hinari Televideo. It was an elaborate carry on that I wouldn’t dream of trying these days but after it we really knew we had a very serious horse.”
Was there a particular reason why he didn’t have a preparatory race before Newmarket? Did he have any racecourse gallops beforehand?
“To this day, I don’t like stepping backwards with horses early in their career i.e. if they have won a Group 2 on their last start, I don’t like to go back down in class unless I need to. Furthermore, I have never seen the logic in taking on other Guineas contenders in the trials for so little money with a horse that has already proved itself good enough to go to the big one.”
Of course there was a big field for the 1994 2,000 Guineas and good to firm ground. Were you concerned about the draw and his ability to handle the Dip in such ground conditions?
“Yes, I was concerned about the draw. Kings Theatre was the favourite and was drawn on the stands side. Everyone thought that is where the pace would be. It was only afterwards that some tried to claim that Mister Baileys and Grand Lodge had had the best ground.”
Had Jason Weaver ridden Mister Baileys very much at home before Guineas Day? Did you sit down together and work out a strategy for the race?
“Yes he had ridden him at home and on the racecourse but he only got the ride at the last minute. Frankie Dettori had first choice, having ridden him in the Royal Lodge, and it was only when he cried off at the last minute that Jason came in for the ride. I didn’t sit down with him beforehand. Jason was, and is, best friends with Frankie: they sat down and discussed the race together. It was a fairytale that they ended up fighting out the finish.”
What are your memories of the day and the race? Where did you watch the Guineas?
“Wonderful memories. We started the day with a Harrods picnic in the car park with our then business partners Brian and Val Palmer. I had loads of owners there and many of them knew Paul Venner and the others from Baileys well, so there was a great build up to the race.
“I watched in the head-on stand and I have a picture on my wall of me punching the air as he crossed the line. I thought he’d won but, as I ran down out of the stand, it started to dawn that it was a photo. The first person to congratulate me was William Jarvis and I said, ‘he did win, did he?’ It was only a little later that I realised that his horse was second.
“The next problem was that I couldn’t find the horse. He didn’t come back in and I started to think something had gone wrong. I went out to the track to look for him and then discovered that, for the first time, they were keeping the winner out on the track until all the other horses were in.
“It was chaos in the winners’ enclosure with all my owners congratulating Paul. They all thought, quite rightly, that they were entitled to be there. Paul loved it.
“Deirdre had to go off and saddle Double Blue which then won the next race. I was doing interviews but, in any case, wasn’t saddling that day because I had my arm in a cast.”
Can you remember how you celebrated afterwards?
“Baileys Horse Feeds had a non-viewing box in the old stand and we packed in there until they threw us out, drinking and watching re-runs over and over. Many of my owners were there. Mick Doyle was wearing a maroon blazer and the sweat was pouring off him. Someone asked why he didn’t take his jacket off and he opened it wide and said, ‘I have so much money in that pocket, and so much money in that pocket, I can’t get my arms out the sleeves’. The horse had won at 16/1 and Mick, like many of my owners, had invested heavily.
“Paul Venner went off with his head groom, Tony, to walk the track. The gate was locked and they had to climb the fence. Paul fell over and Tony did the same, standing on his head and leaving him with a black eye the next day.
“We then all went to Walter Cowe’s house at Hascombe Stud, where he was manager, to continue celebrating. If you ask for more water in your drink at Walter’s he always says, ‘It’s expensive stuff for what it is’ and his other great catch phrase at the time was ‘If you want bubbles in it, blow through a straw’, so you can imagine that we were all getting merrier by the minute.
“Of course we had nothing booked for the evening and, when we phoned round restaurants, everywhere was full. I then remembered that Eric Kettenaker, who previously owned the Kings Head at Dullingham, had bought the old Coronation Hotel in Newmarket. I called him and he obliged with a large table set up in a function room he had down stairs.
“Paul Venner was rather the worse for wear and, when it came to paying the bill, handed Eric a large wad of notes (several thousand pounds). The next morning he found the receipt and exact change in his pocket, not even a tip had been taken.
“Hopefully you can tell that a great time was had by all.”
Was the plan immediately to go to York or were other races under consideration? What happened in the Dante? Did he with hindsight simply not stay?
“The plan was immediately to go to York. He simply didn’t stay.”
At Epsom there was that glorious split second sensation that Jason and Mister Baileys might just escape the field and last home. Did you get that feeling as they cornered Tattenham Corner?
“No. Paul was standing next to me and started to shout but I could see there was a long, long way to go.”
Did he have a break after Epsom or did you keep him ticking over with work?
“He was injured at Epsom, where he suffered a bowed tendon.”
What happened in the Sussex Stakes? Did he run his true race?
“We patched him up for the Sussex but the leg was never going to stand. I probably wouldn’t even try with the experience I have now.”
When was the decision taken to retire him?
“Immediately after the Sussex but the damage was done, and the writing on the wall, after the Derby.”
What did Mister Baileys do for your career? Did you gain new owners and added interest in the yard? Did you learn things with the Mister Baileys experience that helped you with preparation for your future stars?
“It was a huge boost to me and, at the end of 1994 I bought Warwick House opposite my Kingsley House yard to take my capacity to over 100 horses.
“I learned a lot but, looking back, I obviously didn’t have too much wrong. What I was lacking in experience was made up for with enthusiasm and bravado. We did things that we wouldn’t do now but some of them paid off.
“Other things were wrong. I was too obsessed with trying to win the Derby. When Bijou D’Inde came along just two years later, I went Guineas, Irish Guineas, St. James Palace. That is the route Mister Baileys should have taken.”
The team that Mark and Deirdre have assembled in Middleham continues to excel; for more information and news please visit their website at: http://www.markjohnstonracing.com/.