Both as a trainer and a father, it was a weekend when Nigel Twiston-Davies hit the target with both barrels. At Haydock on Saturday he saddled Imperial Commander for a heartening comeback success under Paddy Brennan. The stable jockey, however, was given little chance to rest on his laurels. Within 24 hours, his employer's teenage son had reiterated his status as a young man in a hurry with a ride of unfettered bravura over the Grand National fences.
Twiston-Davies Snr has never been one to depend on others to tell him what he should worry about. Just as he scoffs at those who detected grounds for anxiety in Imperial Commander's performance, he insists that Brennan has nothing to fear or resent in the dramatic emergence of his son, Sam. Any competition between them, in his view, is sooner a matter of riches than embarrassment. Even so, nobody can pretend that Sam, at his present rate of progress, could long remain a mere understudy in anybody's yard – never mind one run by his own father.
Sam's success on Hello Bud in the Becher Chase at Aintree compounded the impression he made on the same horse back in April, when fifth in the National itself. It was only nine days ago that he won the most competitive handicap of the season to date with a similarly positive display on Little Josh at Cheltenham. To follow up yesterday, in an environment that made still greater demands on horsemanship, permitted no doubt that here is an 18-year-old of exceptional promise.
No doubt inspired by the way Brian Hughes and Frankie Figg had jumped their pursuers into submission earlier on the card, Twiston-Davies rode Hello Bud boldly from the front. What was most impressive, however, was his reaction when headed three out. Keeping faith in his mount's rhythm, he not only retrieved the lead at the next but had enough in reserve to see off a strong challenge on the run-in from Royal Rosa – whose own performance, in turn, completed a remarkable exhibition on the day from Hughes.
In pleasing contrast with his novice rider, Hello Bud is approaching his 13th birthday, but Twiston-Davies intends to bring him back for the National next spring. Piquantly for Brennan, the stable's other runner, Irish Raptor, still had every chance when blundering at the second last.
Twiston-Davies did not disguise his pride in his son but discouraged any melodramatic conclusions on Brennan's behalf. "Paddy's No 1," he stressed. "But every weekend there are two huge meetings. Yesterday there was Haydock and Ascot – and Sam was at Huntingdon! There's room for everybody. We've enough horses for both of them."
As for Imperial Commander, Twiston-Davies reported that his champion had returned from the Betfair Chase with "a little cut" on a foreleg but remains confident not only that he will be ready for the William Hill King George VI Chase, but also that he will perform far better than in two previous cracks at the race. "He'll be in his box for a week and we'll have to monitor it," he said. "But hopefully it's full steam ahead to Kempton. I quite like the negative comments in the press, saying the race blew apart. Of course it did – he blew it apart. He took it up nine fences out. If he gets there in one piece, he'll run a hell of a race and it'll take a very good horse to beat him."
Nobody should be too alarmed by the way Tidal Bay was eating into Imperial Commander's advantage on the run-in. Almost invariably, a strong finish is an optical illusion, reflecting the different rate at which tired horses are slowing down. Tidal Bay retained plenty of energy after declining to involve himself for much of the race and it is more instructive to register the widening gap back to those horses who had tried to keep tabs on Imperial Commander. Having asserted from the home turn, at the line he was some nine lengths clear of Planet Of Sound with Nacarat another two and a half lengths away. In conditions that Brennan described as "extremely hard work", that represents a fairly deep-reaching effort. Over the years, winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup has taken many horses to the bottom of the barrel, but this was not the performance of a spent force.
Having said all that, many will remain reluctant to accede to his trainer's somewhat irritated insistence that Imperial Commander has no aversion to Kempton. These may even include Brennan, whose many engaging traits include a fearless candour. "It's obvious he's better going left-handed," he said yesterday. "And it's obvious the King George has never been ideal, but we'll give it a go. We'll ride him a bit differently this year. This year Kauto Star will be missing one of the most important people associated with him – Ruby Walsh – and that gives us all a bit of hope."
The injured Walsh seems certain to be replaced on Kauto Star by Noel Fehily, who wore the same silks on Master Minded at Ascot on Saturday. This was one of those breathtaking, murderous performances that have sporadically decorated Master Minded's career. He has had his problems, but in this sort of form he looks untouchable. Fehily rode two other winners on the card for Paul Nicholls, including a really exciting young hurdler in Silviniaco Conti. A narrow lead for Twiston-Davies at the top of the table will not be costing the champion trainer too much sleep just yet.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Normandy Landings (3.35 Ffos Las)
Represents a stable going places and is easily pardoned defeat last time, committed a long way out just days after a decent reappearance – one that left no doubt that he is feasibly handicapped.
Bobs Worth (12.30 Kempton)
Returns to the scene of both bumper starts, including an impressive success in April. Pedigree and physique suggest that those are only the foundations of an exciting career over obstacles.
One to watch
Fleur De Vassy (Venetia Williams) could not justify support on her reappearance at Hereford last week, tiring into fourth, but the way she travelled through in what was her first chase suggests that she remains well treated.
Where the money's going
Kauto Star is 11-8 from 6-4 with Coral to win his fifth King George VI Chase on Boxing Day. Imperial Commander, in contrast, was eased to 7-1 from 6-1 by Ladbrokes despite winning at Haydock on Saturday.Reuse content