Twiston-Davies between Rock and hard place

 

Grange Hill Farm

A year ago, those helping him perform a similar service on behalf of his local racecourse included the champion steeplechaser, his stable jockey, and a long-serving right-hand man. Yesterday, when Nigel Twiston-Davies again volunteered his time and facilities to promote the first big meeting of the jumps season, none of these three stalwarts was anywhere to be seen.

Imperial Commander is recuperating from a tendon injury, in a field somewhere in Northern Ireland. Paddy Brennan has been riding freelance since the spring, his four-year tenure at the yard having been undermined by the precocious emergence of his employer's own son, Sam. And Fergal O'Brien, after 19 years here, now features among the competition after taking stables on the other side of the Cotswolds.

Moreover, as Twiston-Davies candidly admits, his team is "way down in strength and numbers". With rain clouds rolling out of the valley below, it was hard to resist a melancholy sense of abandonment. Having returned defiantly from far more perilous brinks in his time, however, it would be perfectly in character for Twiston-Davies to use three days at Cheltenham this weekend to reiterate his stature as long-standing local hero.

"In terms of personnel, there's not a problem," he said breezily. "Fergal was one of two head lads, and the other one's still here. And it's nice to have a young jockey [in Sam] who's doing brilliantly. But not having Imperial Commander definitely is a problem – a huge one. He was travelling better than ever when he broke a blood vessel in the Gold Cup, and had beaten Denman far more easily than Long Run did."

Imperial Commander has relatively few miles on the clock for a horse of his age, but Twiston-Davies none the less acknowledges a need for fresh blood. It would be a terrific tonic, then, if the only current trainer to have won the Paddy Power Gold Cup three times could make it four on Saturday.

He could hardly be better aware of its demands. Unlike Imperial Commander, Long Run could not start his Gold Cup campaign with a win here last year, instead having to settle for a podium finish behind Little Josh and young Sam. "That was an inspired ride," Twiston-Davies said. "To go off in front like that and throw him at every fence, I don't think too many jockeys would have won on that horse."

Twiston-Davies accepts that the profile of Billy Magern and Swincombe Rock for now remains closer to that of Little Josh than Imperial Commander. "But they're both second-season novices, which seems to work a treat," he said. "Perhaps the handicapper hasn't got hold of those horses yet, though it's a shame these two look like being a few pounds out of the weights. Billy Magern had a really good dress rehearsal over the course last month, and Swincombe Rock will improve a lot for his first run."

Twiston-Davies identified Viking Blond, who recently made a taking start over fences at Chepstow, as his best chance of the meeting. "He jumped superbly and the softer the better," he said.

Sadly, Little Josh will not be seen until the new year, while Khyber Kim is also sidelined. Likewise their trainer's younger son, Willy. "But he's only 16 and has time on his side," Twiston-Davies said. "He hopes to be back for the Hennessy. Luck will change. It always does."

Twiston-Davies would not be alone among trainers envying Donald McCain after Peddlers Cross made an immaculate chasing debut at Bangor yesterday. Against just two rivals, however, it amounted to little more than a schooling session for the Champion Hurdle runner-up. Albeit he exhibited natural technique, a rather more substantial test awaits the likes of Cue Card, Al Ferof and Menorah in the novice chase sponsored by this newspaper at Cheltenham on Sunday.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Monsieur Jamie (2.50 Southwell) Has already won three times over course and distance during a light career to date, and entitled to further progress after returning from a break last time.

Next best

Backfromthecongo (2.00 Ludlow) Ultimately well beaten on his return, but will last longer with the freshness out of him and may well have been primed for this by his in-form local yard.

One to watch

Jigsaw Puzzle (Warren Greatrex) looked a smart prospect when accelerating clear on his debut in a bumper at Bangor yesterday.

Where the money's going

Support continues to snowball for Mon Parrain in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday, now 7-2 from 4-1 with the sponsors.

Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there