Racing: Finally, a happy twist to Nigel's tale

The Grand National: Retirement plans suddenly put on hold as victory brings the smiles back for troubled trainer
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The Independent Online

The Grand National always produces a story, but yesterday's emerged from the most unlikely source. Nigel Twiston-Davies is one of life's quiet men, at least for those of us who are not regulars of The Hollow Bottom, the pub he owns in the village of Guiting Power. Last time a horse of his won the National, Earth Summit in 1998, the notoriously bolshy Cotswold trainer refused to talk to Des Lynam, so what chance did the rest of us have?

The outcry left Twiston-Davies totally unmoved. He had not spoken to the press for the rest of the year, so, he reasoned, to do so now that he had won the most famous steeplechase in the world would be downright hypocrisy. You could not fault the logic.

It was typical of Twiston-Davies, then, to choose such an auspicious moment for Bindaree, jockey Jim Culloty and owner Ray Mould to announce that his future life plans had been thoroughly complicated by the victory. "I'd decided to retire from training a month ago," he said. He had made the decision in the middle of the funeral of Raymond Mould's mother, as good a place as any to sense the passing of time.

Never the cheeriest on the gallops each morning, Twiston-Davies felt that the game, his game, was moving inexorably into the distance, a feeling confirmed with thumping clarity every morning by a glance at the trainers' table. Before yesterday, a year of unrelenting mediocrity had produced a mere 33 winners. After nine minutes and eight seconds of high- speed drama at Aintree, the winner's purse of just under £220,000 almost doubled his total prize money for the season. The value of restoring his self-belief was incalculable.

"I used to be third in the trainers' table," he said. "It's nothing to do with losing my enthusiasm for racing or training, but I don't want to be bumping along at the bottom and I felt that was what was facing me unless I changed a whole load of horses. I've been lucky with cheap horses, but it is increasingly hard for us to compete at the top end of the market with all the money that is involved now.

"The thought of having to regroup and almost start again was very difficult. So I'd decided I would do something else. It seems the trendy thing to do to take a gap year, I thought I might do that. It was just time to do something else. But after this, I'm not sure."

Given Bindaree's fluctuating progress to the finishing post, his trainer could have taken a complete careers guidance course during the four-and-a-half miles and 30 fences of the National. Having looked the winner two fences out, then beaten halfway up the run-in, the eight-year old showed a dogged persistence in overhauling What's Up Boys which could prove an example to his trainer.

Jim Culloty, the rider of Bindaree, might just consider joining the trainer in retirement. He thought his cup was full to overflowing a month ago when the Irishman's smile spread all the way across the sea to his native Killarney in homage to Best Mate, the new champion chaser.

Yesterday, he refused to wake from the trance. Culloty knows the meaning of mediocrity well enough. Most of his career has been spent in a perpetual struggle with self-doubt. For a time, notably when he gave a fearful ride to Best Mate at Cheltenham two years ago, a ride shot through with the tension of a novice, his confidence hit an all-time low. It did not help that Tony McCoy promptly rode a race of sustained brilliance on Edredon Bleu, a horse from the same stable. It rankled that McCoy's dubious tactics on Best Mate in the King George VI chase failed to attract the same criticism. But then, in racing, there was always one law for the rich and one for the rest. The double blow haunted the gaunt Irishman most days until Best Mate administered salvation in his gallop up the Cheltenham hill.

Quite where Bindaree will stand in Culloty's life story not even he could explain yesterday. Heartache and joy, the National's twin impostors. The ride had only been confirmed on Wednesday when Jamie Goldstein had broken his leg in a fall at Ludlow. Carl Llewellyn, the stable jockey, was due to partner Beau, but the more Culloty studied his mount's form, the better he liked it. Yet this was the sort of luck that propelled others into the history books, not least Llewellyn himself, who profited from injuries to regular jockeys in winning both his Grand Nationals. "I'll have to give Jamie a ring," said Culloty, without really knowing what he would say.

"If someone had said to me at the start of the season that I was going to win the Gold Cup and the National I would have told them: 'No chance'. Me? Jim Culloty? I felt that the Gold Cup would be the highlight of my season and I think it still is. I could have given up for the season there and then. But my ambition was to win the Gold Cup and the National and I've done it. Now I'm just looking forward to the next bollocking Terry Biddlecombe [husband of trainer Henrietta Knight] gives me, when I can turn around and say: 'Sorry, and how many Nationals did you win?' "

Twiston-Davies will doubtless postpone his retirement until after the celebrations, which could be a week or two, on past form. One victory, however grand, will not undo the trials of a desperate season nor make the credit and debit balance much better. The trainers' immediate thoughts were with Goldstein. "His career needs a kick up the backside, just like mine," he said. "But Bindaree has certainly made me think again. I think the chances of me training again next season are 50-50. I will definitely be selling off half my yard." The other half, I fancy, might just include the gallant Bindaree.

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