Nigel Twiston-Davies once earned reknown for daring to give Des Lynam the brush-off after winning a Grand National."I don't do interviews," he said then. But yesterday at Wetherbythe words came tumbling unbid-den from the Gloucestershire trainer after Ollie Magern, a horse clearly with a special place in his heart, won the Charlie Hall Chase for the second time.
It was the nine-year-old's 12th career victory, though his first since taking the Yorkshire track's feature two years ago, and inthe interim he had run onlyeight times. He has a Mercedesengine but a banger's bodywork, but if the gelding's physical vicissitudes have tested Twiston-Davies's skills over the years, his attitude has earned admiration. "He's so unsound, but so tough," he said. "If we can keep him right, he can do anything, but it's so hard to keep him right. But he's so brave, and loves everything he does in life.
"As a young horse in his novice days he used to lie down in his box for two days every time he ran and we wondered if we were wrong racing him. But he comes back fighting every time, and if he resented it he wouldn't try. He gives it all, keeps nothing for himself. He has such a big heart."
In fact, hearts were the theme at Wetherby; Ollie Magern and his rider, Paddy Brennan, threw theirs together over every fence, then jumped after them, as they blazed a stirring trail in the winter sunshine. And State Of Play, the 15-8 favourite, showed his is thoroughly intact as he answered Tony McCoy's every call in his gallant but unavailing chase down the straight. Giving away 6lb, last year's Hennessy Gold Cup winner was only a length and a half adrift at the finish.
Ollie Magern may turn out against Kauto Star in the Betfair Chase in 20 days' time at Haydock where, 12 months ago, he was upsides the champ at the last before fading.
Twiston-Davies's 28 per cent strike rate is a fine testament to the new partnership between the trainer and Brennan. Yesterday was the first time Brennan had ridden Ollie Magern in public; for advice about howto do it he contacted the man in the Wetherby saddle last time, Carl Llewellyn.
"What he told me would happen, did happen," he said. "Ijust kept the revs up. But never mind the jockeys, this was sometraining performance."
The redoubtable Ollie Magern is what he is, but at the age of six Taranis could yet be anything, and yesterday at Down Royal the Paul Nicholls-trained chestnut took another step up the ladder by winning the James Nicholson Chase, his first try over three miles. The victory was not straightforward, for Ruby Walsh had to force the pace. "I wanted a true gallop so I had to go about it myself," the rider said. "It was hard work in front, he's much better with a lead. It's not the right way to ride him but we got away with it."
Walsh earned his fee with a vengeance when Taranis tried to duck out at the second last, but once back on an even keel with concentration restored, he beat Justified five lengths and is now 7-1 for Boxing Day's King George VI Chase.