Sometimes it's the horse, sometimes it's the rider who takes the plaudits in the partnership. The teenager Sam Twiston-Davies's uninhibited confidence as he steered Little Josh to victory in yesterday's Paddy Power Gold Cup here was a pleasure to behold, but no more than the bold, enthusiastic style in which the eight-year-old gelding fed off the messages coming from the saddle. This time, let's just call it a centaur.
Twiston-Davies, who turned 18 two weeks ago, is one of the brightest emerging talents. Among various qualities he has that natural ability in a steeplechase jockey of seeing the right stride to a fence. The young man's father, Little Josh's trainer Nigel, was rightly gratified by yesterday's performance, but also slightly mystified. "Compared to the way I used to ride," he said, "I think I'd better get him DNA tested."
Eight months ago, when the son was still an amateur, the pair were in this famous winner's circle after Baby Run's victory in the Foxhunters on Gold Cup day. But riding against seasoned professionals in the hurly-burly of a valuable, competitive handicap on a 20-1 shot who had fallen twice in his previous six outings is a very different game.
No one apparently told Twiston-Davies Jnr, though. He set off in front and blazed his swashbuckling trail. Little Josh's technique through the air was such that he was gaining ground at every obstacle and, though beginning to tire up this demanding climb to the finish, had enough to repel Dancing Tornado's late thrust by two and three-quarter lengths. The heavily-backed 2-1 favourite Long Run came in another two lengths third, well clear of Mad Max and Great Endeavour.
Twiston-Davies' first thanks went to Little Josh. "I couldn't have asked for a better partner," he said of the dark chestnut. "Everything I asked him – short or long, and maybe a couple of times a bit too long – he came up with the answer; he just loves jumping. I was a bit surprised to be so far clear turning in as I thought Long Run would be coming to get me, but he ran like a superstar up the hill. He's just class and I could trust him with my life."
It was a third win in the two-and-a-half miler for the Twiston-Davies stable, no more than a well-tossed horseshoe's distance away over neighbouring Cleeve Hill, after Tipping Tim in 1992 and the reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup champion Imperial Commander two years ago.
Twiston-Davies père was unashamedly emotional in the immediate aftermath. "Strong men don't mind crying," he said. "For a boy his age to come out and kick a horse into every fence like that, in a race like that, takes some balls."
The victory of Little Josh (who gave his owner, the Brighton chairman Tony Bloom, something to smile about during the afternoon before his team's defeat at Hartlepool) had an impact on the betting for two forthcoming prizes. Weird Al, with whom he dead-heated at Carlisle last month, is now one of the joint-favourites for the Hennessy Gold Cup on Saturday week and, after Long Run's defeat, Kauto Star hardened at the front of the King George VI Chase market.
The Festival here in March is already on the radar; Sam Winner, from the Paul Nicholls yard, galloped to Triumph Hurdle favouritism with a 15-length rout in the Grade Two opener and Wayward Prince put his hat in the RSA Chase ring with a gutsy success in an incident-packed three-mile novices' contest, during which Christian Williams broke both arms in a fall. And this afternoon Loosen My Load heads the Arkle Trophy prospects who line up in the Independent Newspapers Novices' Chase.
And as new chapters begin in the Gloucestershire countryside for jump racing's dramatis personae, one ended in a Parisian suburb for some of the Flat game's leading players. At Saint-Cloud, Johnny Murtagh rode his 49th top-level winner for Aidan O'Brien, but his last as stable jockey, when Recital joined the likes of stablemates Seville and Roderic O'Connor as a front-line Derby prospect by taking the local Criterium.
Murtagh, who resigned his number one post during the week, was at his ice-cool best on the son of Montjeu. Ignoring a too-fast gallop by the leaders in testing ground early on, he made ground smoothly in the straight and came home five lengths clear.