Sam Twiston-Davies’s first full year in jump racing, as he made the challenging transition from promising amateur to impressive professional, was marked by high-profile wins on horses like Baby Run, Little Josh and Hello Bud.
And while he has not enjoyed so many headline-grabbing successes in 2011, his second season has still been a resounding success – he stands on the 49-winner mark for the campaign and a lofty fourth in the jockeys’ standings.
As such, it would be fitting if this talented 19-year-old, the best young NH jump jockey to emerge on this side of the Irish Sea since Richard Johnson, brought up his half century at Aintree today on Hello Bud – one of a trio of horses that helped catapult the likeable rider into the public’s consciousness.
This, for the record, was the horse that led for most of last year’s iconic Grand National before succumbing to the AP MCoy-inspired Don’t Push It. And, to those who mistakenly attributed this fifth-place finish to the jockey’s youthful exuberance and beginner’s luck, Twiston-Davies disproved this when winning the Becher Chase a year ago over Aintree’s fearsome fences.
Today horse and jockey hope to become the first combination to win successive renewals of this National trial over three miles three furlongs that begins at Valentine’s.
“He’s a legend, he’s in good form and, hopefully, he can run another good race,” the jockey told the Yorkshire Post.
“When I was younger, I was convinced he was an out-and-out stayer, like when he won the 2009 Scottish National on him. However, on reflection and having ridden him in the last two Nationals, I don’t think he stays the trip.
“He may be 13 – but today should be ideal. This is his Grand National and he’s one of those horses who just loves Aintree. I cannot wait.”
While Baby Run won the Cheltenham Foxhunters in 2010, and Little Josh prevailed in the Paddy Power Gold Cup after Twiston-Davies turned professional, it is the rider’s association with Hello Bud that lingers, even though he says he cannot separate his three favourites who are all trained by his father Nigel.
He was actually upsides McCoy and Don’t Push It as the ‘champ’ finally ended his Aintree jinx. “Whatever happens, I’ll never forget being part of an unbelievable occasion,” says Twiston-Davies who is widely tipped to be McCoy’s eventual successor as champion jockey. “I’m just glad, I’d like to think, that I’ve proved I’m not a one-season jockey and can have a successful career.”
However, the rider is quick to play down such praise – many up-and-coming riders have failed to live up to such expectations. As such, his mantra is a simple one: “Enjoy and learn.”
That said, there are few riders – Flat or National Hunt – who have Twiston-Davies’s riding acumen, sense of fun and politeness. As he debriefed connections at Hereford last month, it was his courteousness, and insight about the form book, that was the most illuminating. He made sure he “thanked” the owners for providing the ride – a simple gesture that many riders overlook.
This is why he is one of the country’s most sought-after riders, and why he has prospered as his father’s stable jockey after the impetuous Paddy Brennan quit in the Spring. Not many teenagers could handle such a high-pressured role so early in their career.
“I didn’t expect the job so soon,” said Twiston-Davies. “It’s okay, we have our ups and downs. The problem is Nige is never wrong. You just have to learn how he thinks. I’ll come up with an idea, put it in his head and then let him think it is brilliant because he thought of it. There are ways.
“With Imperial Commander, the 2010 Gold Cup winner, out for the year and others like Baby Run and Khyber Kim having niggling difficulties, we’ve not had the quality of winners – but I can’t complain at the quantity. All I want to do is learn from each ride and each day. It’s the only way.”
Meanwhile Hello Bud’s owner Seamus Murphy has no doubts about the horse – or jockey.
“He’s one of the top five jumpers in the UK, and he’s especially good at Liverpool – and it takes a good horse to jump those fences,” he said. “We think he’ll go very well. Sam might be nearly as old as the horse, but he’s a great lad.
“When I’m feeling a bit bad in business I put on a video of him in action, and I think ‘Things really aren’t that bad’. If he wins he’ll be a front-page stopper.”
And deservedly so – just like the jockey.