Sam is the man

The impressively burgeoning career of Sam Twiston-Davies took another notable step forward at Cheltenham over the weekend following a high-profile Saturday double courtesy of Double Ross and The New One.

Some may point to Sam enjoying the benefits of parental influence with his father regularly finding his way into the top dozen or so trainers in the championship table. However, such a relationship also comes with a heavy burden – especially if things go awry at times. Thankfully that has yet to happen in this particular father-son operation and is unlikely to do so as Twiston-Davies junior does nothing but improve at a rapidly impressive rate.

Indeed, to imbue their relationship with the requisite professionalism, Sam revealed last year that he does not now refer to the trainer as Father or Dad. He calls him Nigel. It’s all part of the necessary psychology as evinced a few decades ago when Brian Clough always referred to his son Nigel when the pair were together at Nottingham Forest as “our centre forward” or “our number nine.”

In previous seasons, STD has always given the impression that he is a bold and fearless talent who gave horses a cracking ride, often from the front, in line with how many stable inmates are ridden. The boldness and fearlessness remain but this season has witnessed a significant change. It is as if STD realised that his skills needed further honing and refinement – and that’s precisely what we are witnessing – the growth of talent into fully-fledged excellence.

The rides on Double Ross and The New One were evidence of a more refined jockey at work, especially when tracking the pace and then attacking at the right moment on Double Ross. Thereafter, the drive up the Cheltenham hill was potent and rhythmical as a major pot was added to the family CV.

The ride on The New One was a different commodity altogether but the fact that STD’s first response when having a microphone annoyingly thrust at him by Alice Plunkett on Channel 4 within seconds of finishing was to say that he got it wrong shows an ever-increasing degree of maturity and understanding of his craft.

The jury has hitherto remained out on The New One and remains so after Saturday’s success in the eyes of many an accomplished race-reader. Similar comments can be ascribed to My Tent Or Yours after his comeback success in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle so the proposed clash betwixt the pair over Christmas at Kempton is not only a mouth-watering prospect in itself but one which should go some way to clarifying the respective merits of two leading pretenders to the Hurricane Fly crown.

With Paul Nicholls also voicing his approval of Sam Twiston-Davies as a leading light of the new generation of young jockey talent – and trusting him with the ride, amongst significant others, on the mercurial Tidal Bay when the pair thrillingly landed a last-gasp victory in the Charlie Hall Chase in November – there seems no doubt whatsoever that this young man’s star will grow ever brighter.

Father Nigel has already stated that he would not stand in his son’s way should a “big job” be placed upon the table – a prospect that is likely to be filed in the “sooner rather than later” category at the current rate of progress. He would certainly receive my vote to become champion NH jockey should a certain Irishman ever decide to stop in his march towards 5,000 winners.

A day at the races – Geordie style

Something a little different this week as I spent my first day’s racing at Newcastle on Saturday having travelled to watch the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. So here are my reflections on a day out with the lovable Geordie tribes.


First impressions – our group of four had booked the Members Enclosure and I was mightily impressed with the rather grand entrance to said enclosure – classy indeed. The cost was £25 for the day and £17 in Tatts. As usual there were discounts if you book online – we paid £22. However, once inside there’s little to really distinguish the two enclosures and you pay the extra simply to be opposite (more or less) the finishing line. There was also a special offer for all racegoers – 70p off a pint in any bar up to one hour before the first race!

Viewing – Good and bad. Good because there’s plenty of room even on a day such as the Fighting Fifth and the screen is well placed to help racegoers out. The negative is that you are a long way from the horses, especially on the chase track, although that does offer a greater sense of perspective on the run-in.

The track – a left-handed oval of about 1m6f and a fairer track you could not wish to see. No surprise that the likes of Nicky Henderson, Alan King and Jeremy Scott ventured far from home with high-class types. Galloping chasing sorts are ideally suited with 11 fences to be jumped on each circuit so there are rarely excuses to be made for beaten horses here. The fences take a fair amount of jumping but there’s plenty of space for all runners. The more I watched the more I realised that you really do need a strong travelling, sound jumping type around these fences.

Atmosphere – I expected it to be ultra-boisterous – but it wasn’t. Well behaved but with a lovely north-eastern warmth and buzz about the place. The presence of Tony McCoy helped too with racegoers seemingly genuinely thrilled that the multiple champion had foregone the delights of Hennessy day at Newbury to visit their neck of the woods. Both winners partnered by 4000+ man were warmly received.

Ones to watch – I enjoyed the round of jumping provided by Green Flag in the opener – an interesting mixture of careful but fluent. Lucinda Russell has brought him along with considerable intelligence and he seems sure to have more to offer as a steeplechaser. Oscar Rock had his bubble burst by the finishing thrust of Ballyalton and Mr McCoy in the decent novice hurdle but the pair were well clear of the remainder and both should be kept on the right side.

Vintage Star only just succumbed in a prolonged battle with the older and far more experienced Hey Big Spender(nice to see him on the score sheet again) in a pulsating Rehearsal Chase finish but Sue Smith’s charge is progressing well and will be a useful piece of ammunition if honing and refining his jumping skills a little more. It was a splendid effort by a relatively inexperienced chaser all the same. Baile Anrai (3rd) is another to keep an eye on for the impressive Skelton team from his current handicap mark.


Obviously the star of the show was My Tent Or Yours. It’s easy to fall in love with horses and he’s top of my list at present. His victory was comfortable and expected and we are likely to learn far more when he turns up at Kempton over Christmas. To stop myself getting carried away about him, I’ll leave my comments at that, other than to say it was a fine effort by the improving Cockney Sparrow to fill the runner-up spot and the shrewd John Quinn should be able to find an opportunity for his charge to go one better next time.