Nigel Twiston-Davies is one of the most renowned jumps trainers on the National Hunt circuit and a market leader among the myriad trainers in the Cotswolds. The 63-year-old has won the Grand National twice – the most recent of which came in 2002 when Bindaree won the famous race at Aintree.
Nigel's forays to Point-to-Points are few and far between, although first wife Cathy is always on hand at Cocklebarrow. The Naunton yard has rarely sought hunter chasers and is relentlessly focused on the bigger game.
A signature breakthrough on home turf came at the Cheltenham Festival in 2010 when Imperial Commander won the Gold Cup, part of an extraordinary afternoon. Not 45 minutes later, Nigel doubled his 2010 score with an emotional win for son Sam in the Cheltenham Foxhunter Chase in 2010, with Baby Run. When the family-owned horse returned the following year for a repeat under younger brother Willy, the other side of racing's lucky coin came up, as Willy blundered 2 out and unseated Willy having led the whole way round and still leading. There was still a fairytale end though; Willy won his Foxhunter Chase a month later at Aintree instead.
There have been 13 other success stories at the Festival, including Blaklion’s triumph in the 2016 RSA Novices’ Chase, and flagbearers like The New One and Bristol de Mai have won friends all over the villages of the Cotswolds even if the Festival has proved elusive.
Like every National Hunt yard, summer is a time for renewal, where youngsters are sought which will deliver in Novice company next winter and spring, and last year's novices are nurterued to graduate to Handicap or graded company. There are plenty in the yard that could return Twiston-Davies to the winners’ circle for the marquee races, and of course, the T-D team will be looking to target one favoured autumn prize - the Betvictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham in November - where Nigel's first Festival winner Tipping Tim took a memorable scalp. If you visit the Hollow Bottom pub in Guiting Power, you'll see Tipping Tim's exploits displayed prominently in the pub once part-owned by his trainer.
Here are a couple to look out for:
The Irish thoroughbred has been the ultimate tease for Twiston-Davies in the elite races. The world lay at his feet after defeating a talented field in the Grade I Doom Bar Sefton Novices Hurdle back in 2016, and a cursory glimpse at his record shows admirable consistency in 9 wins from 27 starts; although a winner of the Grade II Towton Novices Chase at Wetherby, his novice career never quite delivered at the very highest level.
In handicap company since, he has picked up memorable scalps at Chepstow, and last season in the Charlie Hall in Ocotber and subsequently a valuable Ascot Chase in February.
In 2019 he made his bow in the National as a 25/1 outsider with a decent chance of upsetting Tiger Roll. The rigours of the event proved to be too much, falling at the 27th fence after travelling well for the majority of the race. He bounced back with three wins in the 2019/20 campaign, including in his final outing at the Keltbray Swinley Chase. He is likely to be aimed at the top handicaps again this winter and you can expect him to be at Aintree for the Becher VChase in November before a tilt at the big one in April. Ballyoptic is backed at 33/1 in the horse racing betting odds to make that breakthrough in the National in 2021 at Aintree.
In the long run, Riders Onthe Storm could be the best Twiston-Davies has to throw at this year's season. He arrived in Naunton last November after making the switch from Tom Taaffe. The horse hit the ground running under new tutelage storming to victory at Aintree then in a graduation chase at Ascot in December. Riders Onthe Storm returned to Ascot in February, proving his quality with a brilliant performance in the Ascot Chase, destroying his nearest rival Janika by 14 lengths. With an official rating risen from 140 to 162 in a matter of less than 4 months, he was a strong contender for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, only to fall three fences out when making headway.
It was an anticlimax to a season of great improvement, but there will be ample opportunity to show that he has the talent to mix it with the best. Haydock's Betfair Chase would pit Twiston-Davies’ charge against Lostintranslation and Santini, whilst in the Tingle Creek, Altior and Chacun Pour Soi could be the agenda. Strong outings in those races would knock his odds down for a challenge at Cheltenham in either the Ryanair Chase or the Champion Chase.
Remember the name as he could be the one notching a 16th Festival victory in the winners’ circle alongside Twiston-Davies in March. But don't expect Nigel anytime soon at Cocklebarrow. Even if both sons started their careers in pony races and Point-to-Points, early sightings are almost always erroneous!