Racing: Bottoms up after Bindaree raises spirits

Grand National: Ambitions of another Aintree triumph next year dissuade Twiston-Davies from quitting an unequal struggle
Click to follow

The Grand National party came to a close at 1am at the Hollow Bottom pub in the Cotswolds when the police arrived to have a word at the rocking Gloucestershire tavern.

By that time, the co-owner of the place and trainer of the victorious Aintree horse, Bindaree, was in much better shape than he had been in the aftermath of his previous National success with Earth Summit four years earlier.

"One of the great things about winning it a second time," Nigel Twiston-Davies said yesterday, "is that you know how arduous the celebrations are going to be. I drank a lot of water last night."

It was a sober Twiston-Davies at his Grange Hill Farm yesterday morning as well, as the trainer further contemplated a change in career less than 24 hours after a sporting peak.

Those that come after us will talk with great reverence about the Twiston-Davies post-National victory speeches. In 1998 he set Des Lynam's moustache a'twitching with the legend "I don't do interviews". That was followed at tea-time on Saturday by an equally unexpected "thank you, I'm retiring".

It has not been the greatest of seasons at the stables above the village of Naunton. Even after a late burst, Twiston-Davies will struggle to record 40 winners. And this is not a man who believes in the validity of just taking part in a pursuit. If he cannot win he does not want to compete.

"I don't want to be an also-ran," he said. "If you're fiercely competitive you want to be on top the whole time. It has been ghastly looking at that wretched [trainers'] table every morning."

Still, it was a beautiful morning and Twiston's blue eyes were clear, his complexion a bucolic rosy. It may not have been a perfect campaign, but penury is not at hand. A glass of Heidsieck champagne hung in his hand.

It was financial imperatives which led Twiston to training. He would rather be bobbling about in the seat of a tractor.

Once again, money is becoming a factor. It has been a bad year, but it has been a bad year coming as Grange Hill Farm has never been a repository for the most expensive horses in training. Bindaree, at 50,000 guineas, is the most costly beast in the yard.

This is a problem partly of Twiston-Davies's own making, as he is not a graduate from the school of public relations. Those close to him adore the man, but it does take a geological age to get to know him.

"I wasn't bluffing at all yesterday," he said. "We're definitely downsizing and selling the bottom yard and, if someone offers me a fabulous amount of money for this we'll be moving from here too. Isn't it best to go out on top?

"But it has put us in a bit of a quandary. I would hate someone else to train Bindaree and Beau [who fell when going well at Liverpool] next season.

"I just haven't got very good horses and it's probably my fault. We haven't culled hard enough, sold some on. We like to get them to win even if it's the worst possible race.

"I haven't got owners who can keep going back to France or Ireland to buy made horses. If something goes wrong a lot of people have money to go and replace it. We don't have that.

"Earth Summit was 5,600 [guineas], Gaelstrom was 5,400 and Young Hustler 9,000. They weren't big money jobs. I'm not complaining. That's just the way things are."

Twiston-Davies now talks with the airy tone of a school-leaver, of a gap year or travel. For the first time in his life he seems to have no purpose. "I was at the funeral of Raymond Mould's [the owner of Bindaree] mother, looking out over the sea, and I thought to myself I'd like to go to places I hadn't seen before," he said. "It seemed an attractive idea. There were people walking their dogs. I thought I'd never even had time to do that.

"I'm just wondering what it's like to be idle. I've been in racing and farming and they're both 365 days a year jobs.

"I never ever wanted to be a trainer. That happened by accident. So I wouldn't be giving up a career I always wanted to do.

"Jockeys say they give up when they don't want to ride in a race and I just wonder if you don't want to drive down to Taunton to watch a horse maybe it's time to stop training.

"I probably enjoyed Cheltenham more than ever this year because I had nothing that was going to win. Absolutely no pressure. And you've got to do things fully or not at all."

The favoured option seems to be the retention of a single yard and the best 40 horses. Only if Twiston-Davies retires entirely will his business partner Peter Scudamore be tempted to take out a licence of his own.

"I enjoy what we do and I think we do it very well when we pull our fingers out," Scu said yesterday. "But things were drifting. The mooring had become undone."

Scu cracked up a little on Saturday, what with the emotional effort of watching the three Twiston National entries as well as his own son Tom, on Mark Pitman's Smarty.

His BBC commentary was not as normal. "I usually write down the fence numbers and the horses that fall there," he said. "On Saturday, I realised I never wrote a single thing down.

"On the run-in I thought we were going to get beat and nobody remembers the second. At poor old Philip Hobbs's yard [the home of runner-up What's Up Boys] this morning there'll just be the dog and a few stablelads wandering around."

At Grange Hill Farm, though, the champ was parading, if not in all his glory. Bindaree usually sends the lads scattering with his exuberance, but yesterday you could have hung your jacket on his chestnut ears and got away with it. The eight-year-old was shattered.

When the horse ramp came down Bindy became a little nervous, as if suspecting another journey to Merseyside. But this was a shorter trip, down the road to the Hollow Bottom. The way he was talking, Nigel Twiston-Davies might be pulling pints in there soon.