NEARLY six years after Baby Run came to grief in the Foxhunters’ Chase, William Twiston-Davies finally recorded his first victory at Cheltenham courtesy of Cogry’s heartwarming victory in the New Year’s Day rain at jump racing’s headquarters.
Since the heartbreak of being unseated from Baby Run, Twiston-Davies has been plying his trade on the Flat – he steered Primitivo to victory at Royal Ascot last summer – before reverting back to National Hunt rules where his older brother, Sam, is a leading exponent.
Clearly disillusioned by riding on the all-weather, and the sacrifices required just to make the weight, this was a reinvigorating win for Twiston-Davies, who had appeared to be a tortured soul in recent times before teaming up once again with his father Nigel.
Despite failing to complete in four starts over fences this season, Cogry rallied valiantly from the front to defeat favourite Rocklander by a hard-fought neck in the BetBright Casino Handicap Hurdle.
“That was wonderful. It was really superb. A really strong Flat jockey got him home,” said the winning trainer.
“That’s what they both needed. The horse had a miserable time and none of those things had been his fault and what a lovely day for him (William).
“Ever since his last fall we thought we would give up over fences for one or two races. His jumping was just impeccable. It was so great that William could ride him as it was his first Cheltenham winner.”
This was a day that saw Lizzie Kelly advertise her credentials as the pre-eminent female rider over obstacles.
After winning the opener on Coo Star Sivola for her stepfather Nick Williams, she then won the feature Relkeel Hurdle on Agrpart, who toughed it out to beat the Daryl Jacob-ridden L’Ami Serge in an attritional finish on rain-softened ground with former World Hurdle winner Cole Harden back in third.
Kelly, the first female rider to win a Grade One jumps race in this country, had ridden just three winners this season before this high-profile double, which illuminated the return of horse racing to ITV.
Connections are now dreaming about a tilt at the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Chelternham Festival in March if the ground is testing.
“This horse is a legend, I knew he had a great shout, we came in quietly at 16-1, but the way he won the Betfair I knew he’d stay further and it’s rained all day, which was always going to suit him,” said Kelly.
“We’d like to think he might stay three miles, maybe the Stayers’ Hurdle, you never know.
“It’s been a tough season and I’m just glad we’ve come here and the hard work of everyone has paid off.”
Williams said: “I don’t know where we go next, he’s very much ground dependent as all his wins have been on heavy. The reason we came here was to see if we could step him up for the World (Stayers’) Hurdle.
“I think he’s a stayer on good to soft ground, we’ll probably go up in trip. He won’t go backwards in trip and we’ll point towards the Stayers’ Hurdle.”
He added: “It’s fantastic, we haven’t been winning many races recently, so it’s fantastic we’ve had two winners (yesterday).
“It was a brilliant ride by Lizzie, she’s very, very strong in a finish. She’s won a lot of photos against very strong jockeys and any thoughts of her not being strong enough in a finish are rubbish.”
Of equal signifance to horse racing was the new-look coverage on ITV after the channel acquired the terrestrial television rights from Channel Four.
Headed by former Sky Sports football presenter Ed Chamberlin and 20-times champion jockey Sir AP McCoy, the coverage was both engaging and entertaining – qualities that were sadly missing on Channel Four as it haemhorraged viewers over the past four years.
The challenge will be winning back former viewers who have gravitated to the satellite channels while not losing the racing aficionados who would prefer more time to be spent studying the nuances of the form and betting.
Popular wins for the likes of William Twiston-Davies and Kelly, two articulate riders, can only help the sport’s future profile when it comes to the television stakes.