Big Buck’s for Sam – but not for other Nicholls’ pilots

Only two weeks ago I was writing about the talent of Sam Twiston-Davies and lo and behold we are now informed that he will be the jockey aboard Big Buck’s for the remainder of the season – and presumably the next one too if all remains well with the staying hurdle champion.

It’s clearly a wonderful move for Sam who, it is abundantly clear, is being lined up to take over as the number one rider at Ditcheat sometime in the future. However, it’s not at all wonderful for the man who holds the position of stable jockey to the Nicholls juggernaut – irrespective of recent press coverage.

Paul-Nicholls

The mere fact that both Paul Nicholls and Andy Stewart have gone out of their way – by some considerable distance – to explain that the decision not to put Daryl Jacob on Big Buck’s is sufficient evidence in itself to show that there are massive issues at stake. Nicholls, as good a communicator as he is trainer – brilliant in both aspects – has resorted, uncharacteristically, to trying to explain the difference between a retained and stable jockey. Splitting hairs comes to mind. In addition, it appears that he believes Jacob not to be in the right frame of mind to take the ride, stating that his ‘retained’ jockey now believes it to be something of a ‘poisoned chalice’ in the same way that it became precisely so for Sam Thomas, who now struggles to enjoy a ride a day.

I find it hard to believe that there is any jockey in the country who would not wish to partner the best staying hurdler we have seen for a very long time. But, that, we are informed is the situation apropos Daryl Jacob. All of which only begs one question – why?

Horse Racing - The 2012 John Smith's Grand National - Day Three - Aintree Racecourse

The answer may possibly, just possibly, be found in an analysis of what has happened to former Nicholls’ jockeys in the past, because there really does seem to be a definite ‘Nicholls Factor’ when it comes to jockeys, be they stable or retained (there really is something wrong if a trainer has to explain there’s a difference between the two). Moreover the comment of owner Andy Stewart that the decision not to use Daryl Jacob was in no way a reflection on his ability is quite laughable. So what has happened to Ditcheat pilots in the past? Well, here’s just a selection.

JOE TIZZARD – suffered a horrific injury when at Ditcheat and was given little or no chance on his return to action. Now rides almost exclusively for his father with hardly an outside ride to his name (8 winners this term).Probably waiting to take over as trainer in a couple of years when Dad has had enough.

LIAM HEARD – whatever happened to him? Ever since falling when going well on Granite Jack in the Paddy Power some years ago(called in when Ruby was injured and the fall was not his fault), his star descended rapidly at Ditcheat. Still more than capable but hardly gets a ride nowadays and has ridden less than 10 winners in the past three seasons.

SAM THOMAS – How are the mighty fallen. Going a bomb with Venetia before being snapped up by Ditcheat. Suffered it seems an infinite loss of confidence when failing on the likes of Big Buck’s, Kauto Star and Denman. He just isn’t the same any more, sadly looking the palest shadow of former days.

IAN POPHAM – did ok but then departed the scene pretty rapidly but thankfully now doing better with martin Keighley after a bad injury.

RYAN MAHON – gets fair rides here and there but hard to see precisely where his career with Nicholls is going. Being used by the brilliant Harry Fry when the superlative Noel Fehily is unavailable.

HARRY SKELTON – didn’t take at all long for the rides to dry up. Has taken the success of rookie trainer and his brother, Dan, to get his confidence back and is now riding pretty well.

HARRY DERHAM – being brought along far more steadily than the above list, probably because he is a relation of the trainer. Interesting to see what happens when he loses his claim.

Perhaps it’s the above list of woe that made Daryl Jacob allegedly have second thoughts about taking the ride on Big Buck’s. He’s already missed out on Silviniaco Conti in the King George and is likely to do so again in the future. Also, the simple fact remains that he still has a fabulous job at a magnificent yard and if he were to leave than the only way would definitely be down.

Nevertheless you wouldn’t bet against Sam Twiston- Davies being number one with Nick Scholfield maintaining the no 2 slot in the not too distant future. Would you?

Festive clues in abundance – maybe!

The Christmas and New Year period provided a series of fascinating contests that look to have provided some useful clues to the Cheltenham Festival four days, not to mention the remainder of the NH season. We only have a certain amount of space so let’s take a look at five things that we learnt in the last couple of weeks.

  1. Hurricane Fly remains the one to beat in the Champion Hurdle. That doesn’t mean that he will win a third crown but it does mean that he sets the standard for his prime challengers to attain. There seems no obvious reason why either Our Conor or Jezki should reverse Ryanair Hurdle form, especially with Mr Mullins telling us all that there’s still more to work on with the holder of the title. The New One and My Tent Or Yours produced a stirring battle at Kempton and both are likely to be better suited to the demands of Prestbury Park in March. Both should have more to offer and, at this stage, appeal as the main challengers to the champion. Moreover, for the ‘Fly’ not to be outright favourite at this stage seems rather strange too.
  2. Silviniaco Conti boasts outstanding Gold Cup claims. He was the only one to trouble Betfair Chase winner, Cue Card, at Kempton during the majority of the 3m trip in the King George and still produced the requisite stamina and resilience to reel in the Tizzard charge and win decisively. He was, as we know, travelling perfectly well when uncharacteristically capsizing in last year’s Gold Cup and must be a prime candidate under the superb Noel Fehily. He rates an excellent each-way option at present. But…
  3. Bobs Worth is back. Nicky Henderson has had a number of unpleasant reverses this season so far and still trails Paul Nicholls in the trainer’s championship, something that practically all racing pundits would not have foreseen pre-season. However, his reigning champion delivered a typically tough and powerful effort to win the Lexus Chase going away and reignite his championship credentials.
    nicky henderson & binocular www.lambourn.info
  4. With his love of Cheltenham there for all to see, Bobs Worth deserves to start favourite come the special day and it will take an exceptional effort for him to be toppled if he’s on his A game for Barry Geraghty.
  5. Champagne Fever is not the second coming – well not at the moment. He may well put his Leopardstown disappointment behind him – either before the Arkle or in the ‘big one’ itself – but at present he is far from the Arkle certainly which many believed him to be. As yet he is not a Simonsig either or, of course, a Sprinter Sacre. His defeat behind Defy Logic throws the Arkle wide open and nothing makes definitive appeal at present.
  6. Annie Power. Oh, how good is she. Well, actually we don’t know but everything she does oozes championship style. Don’t worry about where she will be aimed for the rest of the season, although that particular topic will probably occupy far more media space than it should. Suffice to say that it is not a dilemma that her master trainer faces – it is simply a situation that a) he will resolve in his normal calm, unflustered manner and b) is one that every other trainer on both sides of the Irish Sea wishes they had.

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Finally, and sadly. Heartfelt sympathy and every best wish to Henrietta Knight and the family of friends of Terry Biddlecombe who died over the weekend. Cavalier, swashbuckler, dashing – these will be the words associated with a man who rode horses and lived life in his own inimitable fashion. His association with Henrietta was as wonderful as it was initially unlikely and he will be sorely missed.