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.


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?

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