Bold Bass elbows way past Politologue in Ascot thriller

Sunday Times, 24 January 2021

Commitment is crucial, and nobody ever did it elbow-pumping better than David Bass on First Flow in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot yesterday.

This was set to be another brilliant exhibition of front-running by Champion Chaser Politologue and when the now almost white ten-year-old towed along the eight-runner field jumping with his trademark zest and agility, it looked as if those who had backed him down to 11-8 favourite had the right idea. Bass clearly disagreed.

For the first three fences up past the winning post and the first two down the hill Bass had accepted the position of respectful pursuit that his 14-1 odds suggested he should. But coming to the open ditch he saw a big take-off stride, let First Flow rip, and suddenly Politologue had something alongside.

The old grey has beaten off plenty of pretenders in his time but while he took the next perfectly, beside him the Bass elbows gave their familiar three-stride beat to positively hurl First Flow up and over. The two leaders spun round the bottom turn fully ten lengths clear of the field. Battle was joined. This one would go punch for punch.

There are four fences up the Ascot hill. With a long, low leap Politologue got the better of the first, but at the second, and most noticeably at the third, the second open ditch, it was the Bass elbows and the white nose-banded head of First Flow that had the power. Now it was First Flow in charge enough for Bass to be conservative over the last fence before the turn and prepare for the action as they faced the straight.

A great jump at the second-last got Politologue back to within almost a length of the leader, but the gap would not close. Something special would be needed at the last but Bass was able to hold First Flow together and then ask for one big jump which clinched things. Behind him Politologue answered Harry Cobden but his wobble on landing was that of a tired and beaten horse. First Flow drew away to have a very decisive seven-lengths verdict at the line. Waiting Patiently ran on to be third but failed to perform as well as one might have hope, only just beating Fanion D’Estruval with the deeply disappointing Defi Du Seuil a farther eight lengths back in eighth.

It was First Flow and Bass’s sixth consecutive victory together and such is the nine-year-old’s progress that he has now to be a live contender for Politologue’s Champion Chase crown at Cheltenham. “I didn’t plan to take Politologue on that early but he winged the fences down the hill,” said the jockey afterwards. “When he goes to the racecourse he’s unbelievable. It’s brilliant.”

As the son of a harp-playing vicar and a viola teaching father, Bass is bred more for the Albert Hall than for the Ascot jumps course, but he is rightly enjoying the best time of his 12-season career and was particularly pleased to ride this victory for his principal trainer Kim Bailey for whom, surprisingly, this was a first grade-one success since Master Oats won the Gold Cup two days after Alderbrook had taken the Champion Hurdle back in 1995.

Commitment is crucial, and nobody ever did it elbow-pumping better than David Bass on First Flow in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot yesterday.

This was set to be another brilliant exhibition of front-running by Champion Chaser Politologue and when the now almost white ten-year-old towed along the eight-runner field jumping with his trademark zest and agility, it looked as if those who had backed him down to 11-8 favourite had the right idea. Bass clearly disagreed.

For the first three fences up past the winning post and the first two down the hill Bass had accepted the position of respectful pursuit that his 14-1 odds suggested he should. But coming to the open ditch he saw a big take-off stride, let First Flow rip, and suddenly Politologue had something alongside.

The old grey has beaten off plenty of pretenders in his time but while he took the next perfectly, beside him the Bass elbows gave their familiar three-stride beat to positively hurl First Flow up and over. The two leaders spun round the bottom turn fully ten lengths clear of the field. Battle was joined. This one would go punch for punch.

There are four fences up the Ascot hill. With a long, low leap Politologue got the better of the first, but at the second, and most noticeably at the third, the second open ditch, it was the Bass elbows and the white nose-banded head of First Flow that had the power. Now it was First Flow in charge enough for Bass to be conservative over the last fence before the turn and prepare for the action as they faced the straight.

A great jump at the second-last got Politologue back to within almost a length of the leader, but the gap would not close. Something special would be needed at the last but Bass was able to hold First Flow together and then ask for one big jump which clinched things. Behind him Politologue answered Harry Cobden but his wobble on landing was that of a tired and beaten horse. First Flow drew away to have a very decisive seven-lengths verdict at the line. Waiting Patiently ran on to be third but failed to perform as well as one might have hope, only just beating Fanion D’Estruval with the deeply disappointing Defi Du Seuil a farther eight lengths back in eighth.

It was First Flow and Bass’s sixth consecutive victory together and such is the nine-year-old’s progress that he has now to be a live contender for Politologue’s Champion Chase crown at Cheltenham. “I didn’t plan to take Politologue on that early but he winged the fences down the hill,” said the jockey afterwards. “When he goes to the racecourse he’s unbelievable. It’s brilliant.”

As the son of a harp-playing vicar and a viola teaching father, Bass is bred more for the Albert Hall than for the Ascot jumps course, but he is rightly enjoying the best time of his 12-season career and was particularly pleased to ride this victory for his principal trainer Kim Bailey for whom, surprisingly, this was a first grade-one success since Master Oats won the Gold Cup two days after Alderbrook had taken the Champion Hurdle back in 1995.

“It means a lot,” said Bass. “I said I would ride Kim a grade-one winner but I didn’t think it would take it as long as it has.” For now we must store the memory of the three pump drum-roll of those Bass elbows and the bravery of First Flow beneath.

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