If proof was needed that even the wildest dreams can come true at the Cheltenham Festival, then the victory of Alderbrook in the 1995 Champion Hurdle is surely it.
What started as a vision conceived by owner Ernie Pick on a beach would end up providing trainer Kim Bailey with not only his first Festival winner, but the opening leg of a Champion Hurdle/Gold Cup double in the same year, which has not been repeated since.
Though developing into a smart stayer on the Flat with Julie Cecil, the son of Ardross had failed to feature on his sole start over hurdles for Sally Hall, but that did not deter Bailey.
Bailey said: “It was an extraordinary story. Ernie Pick had a dream while lying on a beach in Thailand that his horse Alderbrook would win the Champion Hurdle.
“When he arrived back at Heathrow he asked to come and see me and asked me to train the horse. I totally agreed with him, as I was never one to turn down an opportunity.
“We sent him to Yogi Breisner and he was in charge of making him jump – after a week he said, ‘I’m not sure I can succeed with this horse, as I can’t get him to jump’.
“I said, ‘Yogi, you have got four more days to crack it, otherwise we are in trouble’. He then phoned back four days later and said, ‘I think we’ve cracked it.”
Once mastering the the art of hurdling, Alderbrook soon caught the attention of those among the racing fraternity in Lambourn with his exuberance out on the gallops.
Bailey recalls: “Brian Delaney, who was then Charlie Brooks’ head lad, was on the gallops and I was up there with Eddie Hales (former assistant trainer) and I remember Brian turning round and saying, ‘what the hell was that!’.
“It was then a question who would get down to Ladbrokes in the village to get some money on first!
“He went to the Kingwell at Wincanton, absolutely bolted up and became one of the close favourites for the Champion Hurdle.”
Receiving the soft ground he required, Alderbrook stamped his authority over his rivals in the manner of a seasoned campaigner and not a horse making only his third start over hurdles, to register what would turn out to be the greatest success of his career.
Bailey said: “He had to have soft ground and that year it was, which made a huge difference, and he travelled very strongly through the race.
“Turning into the straight Large Action was in front with Mysilv. He just coasted up on the outside, jumped the last and went away from them.
“I’ve never seen a horse in the Champion Hurdle turn into the home straight travelling on the bridle like that, but you are never confident until they jump the last.
“He had jumped every single hurdle spot on and Norman Williamson gave him an absolutely fantastic ride, as Large Action was no mug.”
In normal circumstances wild celebrations would follow such a success, but for Bailey his attention was not on where the next glass of champagne would be coming from but readying Master Oats to complete his own rags to riches tale in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
He said: “Master Oats was another extraordinary horse, I ran him in a novice chase first time out and he never showed much.
“When he won the Welsh National we started to believe he could be a good horse, but it was lucky the race at Chepstow was abandoned and they ran it at Newbury, as he had no respect for his fences and it is trappy up and down dale at Chepstow.
“He went to Cheltenham (Cotswold Chase) and the ground was horrendous. He tore around there and did it so easily. It was wonderful to see and from there he became favourite for the Gold Cup.”
Like Alderbrook soft ground was essential for Master Oats to be seen at his best, and with conditions in his favour he completed his remarkable rise through the ranks to give Bailey a victory he could scarcely believe would be possible given his inauspicious start to life.
He said: “He wasn’t an agile individual and wasn’t a natural jumper and I thought down the far side he wasn’t going very well as he was on the inside not jumping well.
“He made one mistake and Norman took him on the outside and gave him a couple of back-handers. The was race over from that moment and I couldn’t believe how it transformed that quickly.
“He jumped the next lot of fences very easy, bar running down slightly left-handed at the last, but he was always going well. He would run through a brick wall for you, which he did on that day for us.”
Having had to mute his celebrations following the victory of Alderbrook, there was no holding back Bailey and his team from letting their hair down after Master Oats ground his rivals into submission to complete the dream double.
Bailey said: “It was extraordinary really to achieve such a double. It was never expected, but I was lucky to have two horses of such calibre.
“We went into the Queens and took over the whole place and had a late night.
“I wasn’t feeling my best the following day, but if you can’t celebrate after good days like that when can you?”