Winning is in the blood for potential star Willie

IT was the image that defined the emergence of a new horse racing dynasty; Willie Twiston-Davies running up the Cheltenham hill as his elder brother, Sam, won the prestigious Christie's Foxhunters' Chase for amateur riders.

Forty minutes after their trainer father Nigel, landed the Gold Cup, steeplechasing's most cherished prize, with Imperial Commander, the brothers were in dreamland. Not even the shock of seeing his face on the giant TV screen stopped young Willie, resplendent in his school suit, from greeting his conquering heroes.

The family's spontaneous celebrations were uplifting. This was their moment as father, and sons, gently chided the racing industry for ignoring them and, instead, focusing on Paul Nicholls, and the champion trainer's relentless PR machine, in the build-up to Cheltenham.

One year on, and Twiston-Davies Snr is confident history will repeat itself.

Imperial Commander, he says, is "on course" to successfully defend his Gold Cup crown after missing the King George following a training setback – while 10-year-old Baby Run completes his Cheltenham build-up in today's Wilmot-Smith Memorial Cup at Wetherby for hunter chases.

"I couldn't be happier," says Twiston-Davies Snr.

The only difference is that Willie Twiston-Davies – and not Sam – will be in the saddle today, and also for the family's date with destiny at Cheltenham, a short canter from their stables, in six weeks.

Now 16, Willie is old enough to compete in such races while his brother, now 18, is ineligible after turning professional following last season's heroics.

Though suspended at present, Sam is on course to become this season's champion conditional rider after recording 44 winners and climbing to 10th place overall, behind the invincible AP McCoy, in the jockeys' standings.

"It's great Willie is getting the chance on a horse that has provided me with my greatest moment to date – winning at the National Hunt Festival, my local track," said Sam.

"That still means more than finishing fifth in the National, winning the Paddy Power on Little Josh or my Becher Chase win on Hello Bud. Cheltenham is the place.

"My biggest worry, as Imperial Commander won the Gold Cup, was who would tack up Baby Run. To be honest, it was all a bit of a blur – but Willie running up the hill, that was funny.

"He's a bit of a legend in the Cotswolds for that, it's the one thing that everyone remembers. I could hardly hear him because his voice was hoarse and all our friends were cheering.

"I'm sure he and Baby Run will get on great, They should win if he gets the horse in a good rhythm."

Sam, however, is unlikely to impart any words of wisdom before the off. This is not because he views his younger brother as a rival. Quite the opposite. For, with characteristic modesty, he says Willie is actually the more naturally talented of the two siblings. And, while Sam's build meant he was always destined for a National Hunt career, Willie's lighter frame means there is every chance – if he does not have a growth spurt – that he will ultimately compete on the Flat when he finishes his school studies.

"That's where the money is," says Sam, whose father agrees.

"As long as they both do their best," says Twiston-Davies Snr.

It is unlikely that Willie, who maintained an all-night vigil outside Imperial Commander's stable following the Gold Cup, will continue his studies after his GCSEs this summer, even though his parents – the boys' mother Cathy is a successful point-to-point trainer – appreciate the importance of schooling.

Even though Sam left school halfway through his A-levels – at least he gave them a chance – Willie's Twitter feed includes regular and amusing diatribes of having to spend afternoons in class rather than on the gallops. He has also bemoaned the rides that he has missed because of the spate of abandoned meetings. He tweeted recently: "Over the moon because I'm in science and not the races! Not!"

Another message used betting parlance: "Has a science exam tomorrow; 3-1 to pass?" Thursday's contribution was equally succinct: "Hates French with Mrs Hudson."

A more recent observation was whether to fork out for a gym membership when he can run up the hill at his parents' home to maintain his fitness. The latter prevailed.

"I don't think anything could be more fun and I'd be happy to ride for free for the rest of my life" he says.

After riding a double for his mother last month on the point-to-point circuit, Willie's enthusiasm is palpable as he prepares to ride the brilliant Baby Run today and attempt to emulate his brother.

His plan last night was to watch reruns of the horse's races, including Sam's momentous Foxhunters' victory, while honing his technique on an equisizer – a mechanical horse used to practise riding.

He has also learned the hard way after falling in love with horses at the age of four, and then riding out 'work' on the gallops from his 10th birthday onwards. When the highly-rated Paddy Brennan, Imperial Commander's jockey, left Howard Johnson's County Durham yard to join the Twiston-Davies stable, he was shocked that young Willie was schooling a horse that fell at virtually every fence.

"Are you trying to kill the lad?" remarked Brennan. Learning the hard way, however, appears to have paid off. And, though he is reluctant to heap too much praise on his sons, Twiston-Davies Snr is certainly proud of both boys.

"They're both good lads, aren't they?" he said.

"They do make me proud – but don't tell them. And, if they both end up riding against each other one day, it will be a nice problem to have – there will be no favours. Just whoever is riding the best."

Nigel Twiston-Davies would not have it any other way. Nor would his sons.

For this is one sporting family where no favours are sought – or expected. Winning is all that matters.

What the family has to say...

Nigel Twiston-Davies on his two sons, Sam and Willie

"If Willie could win the Foxhunters at Cheltenham as well as Sam, it would be fantastic. My stud fee would go up considerably!"

Sam Twiston-Davies on his younger brother Willie

"I don't need to give him any advice. He rides better than me anyway. I think he's more of a natural."

Willie Twiston-Davies on brother Sam

"There's not really been anyone like Sam and he's almost impossible to follow. I'll just do the best I can."

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