IF aptly-named The New One wins today’s Stan James Champion Hurdle, trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies fully expects to be called ‘the old one’ by his son Sam, who will be in the saddle.
He will not mind; he has been called far worse.
Victory would see gregarious Twiston-Davies senior join the elite list of trainers to win the Grand National, Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle.
It would also vindicate the faith that he placed in his son after being badly hit by the recession – the Twiston-Davies stable has just 60 horses today compared to 120 before the financial slump.
This family-run operation, based near Cheltenham, has not been competing solely against the economy, but also resurgent Irish jump racing and the growing dominance of trainer Willie Mullins and the peerless Ruby Walsh, already the most successful Festival rider in history with 38 victories to his name.
This could be their day – again. As well as the veteran Hurricane Fly, who will join the greats if he wins a third Champion Hurdle in four years, stablemate Quevega will eclipse Golden Miller’s five Gold Cup wins in the 1930s if she wins a sixth successive OLBG Mares Hurdle.
But Mullins and Walsh are not relying on old favourites.
Vautour will take all the beating in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle and Champagne Fever is favourite for the Racing Post Arkle Trophy, the two-mile speed test for novices.
Still only seven, Champagne Fever would be winning his third different race at the Festival in as many years after the 2012 Champion Bumper and 2013 Supreme Novices – a feat only previously achieved by Arkle’s stablemate Flyingbolt and reigning Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth.
This is just the type of challenge that Twiston-Davies, 56, and his 21-year-old son Sam – ‘the young one’ – relish.
The source of their confidence? Last year’s Festival when The New One covered the final two furlongs of the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle in a quicker time than it took Hurricane Fly to complete the final quarter mile of his Champion Hurdle.
There is a codicil to such comparisons – ground conditions, and the pace of different races, do vary each day. But the Neptune was five furlongs further than today’s two mile test and the Twiston-Davies team believe a fast pace will suit their six-year-old, who won at Cheltenham last December before being beaten by AP McCoy’s My Tent Or Yours in Kempton’s William Hill Christmas Hurdle when fluffing the last.
“Hurricane Fly must be the one to beat. He has stuffed the others twice,” said the trainer.
“The New One, he is just totally uncomplicated. There will be pace but, if there is no pace, others will struggle more than us. The New One has a phenomenal turn of foot.
“Someone showed me some statistics.
“He covered the last two furlongs, over the same track as Hurricane Fly last year, unbelievably quicker. I hope his turn of foot will win him the day. He was on an impossible stride at the last in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, that was the problem. At Cheltenham you can make a mistake at the last because there is the great big hill to put it right, but at Kempton there is only a short-run-in.”
Not many trainers would have turned to their 18-year-old son to replace Paddy Brennan, who had won the 2010 Gold Cup on Imperial Commander. This is what Twiston-Davies did and father and son now bring out the best in each other.
“I don’t think Sam has many weaknesses. His strengths? His balance is amazing and he seems to be a very good judge of pace,” added the proud father, whose Khyber Kim was second in the 2010 Champion Hurdle to Binocular. If a horse makes an earth-shattering mistake, you never see him move, but most jockeys do. He does like to be handy in races, but does not make too much use of them. He seems to understand when they are going too quick.
“It was hideous three years ago. I would worry myself to death about him letting owners down, but he hasn’t let anybody down and hopefully never will. You can think of a few trainers’ sons who have not been as good as their parents thought.
“I think we all agree that I have been lucky. He is a joy to have around. I cannot emphasise enough that with your son riding, it is twice the enjoyment. Financially it helps too, as he is part of the business.”
More so if The New One wins today.