In the parade ring just after Sire De Grugy had won this year’s Queen Mother Champion Chase, I found myself among a group of jockeys who had run out of the weighing room jostling and joshing like a bunch of schoolkids. They had, though, a serious purpose: they had emerged to pay tribute to one of their own, the winning rider Jamie Moore. Daryl Jacob, Aidan Coleman, ‘Choc’ Thornton and half a dozen others climbed on each other’s shoulders to cheer him in. I asked Daryl, why such a rare public honour? ‘It’s just that Jamie’s such a great guy from such a great family,’ he replied. Said Choc, ‘He’s ridden here 70 times without a winner and this is special. He’s a top guy.’ (Such a modest one, too, that Jamie firstly took a seat in the audience, not on the platform for the post-race press conference.)
The chief organiser of the paddock tribute, appropriately, was the hottest talent among today’s up-and-coming riders, trainer’s son Sam Twiston-Davies. Like the Moores from Sussex, whose racing dynasty was founded by Brighton Pier performer and used-car salesman Charlie Moore, the Cotswold-based Twiston-Davies clan have racing in their DNA. The duffel coat and corduroy style may differ, but they share with the Moores an honesty in the way they run their horses that breeds public loyalty. While Gary and Jamie Moore had their greatest success, the biggest regret for many racing fans at this year’s Festival was that Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies didn’t win the Champion Hurdle with The New One. Tragically, he lost any chance when a horse fell in front of him, but, in what was one of the most mature rides at the meeting, Sam gave The New One time to get back in the race and finish well for an impressive fourth.
Father Nigel mixes a shyly gruff public persona with a reputation for occasionally riotous celebration. But nobody turns out fitter horses than he does from his Naunton base and the locals love him. Twiston-Davies horses are cheered on at Cheltenham like a home team. Without any massive buying power behind him, he has won a Gold Cup (with Imperial Commander) and two Grand Nationals (with Earth Summit and Bindaree). He has also bred two outstanding riding talents. Under the guiding hand of the father he calls ‘Nige’ and his assistant, former top rider and canny investor Carl Llewellyn, Sam, who turned pro while he was still at school in 2010, had already won 88 races this season when Cheltenham began and was well on target for his first century. He can do ten stone without wasting and significantly was already being called in regularly by leading trainer Paul Nicholls to ride horses not partnered by stable jockey Daryl Jacob. Sam’s younger brother Willy, riding on the Flat despite being 6ft 2ins, has been snapped up as first jockey to Mick Channon for the coming season.
The speed of the ginger-haired Sam’s take-off as a jockey makes the average meteorite look like a four-mile plodder, and at Cheltenham I asked him how he copes. Physically he displays the restless fidgetiness of youth but it goes with a cool mind. ‘It’s just good to be riding nice horses and doing what I enjoy,’ he said. ‘Going racing every day is what you dreamed of when you were a kid.’ We have just lost the care-less cavalier Terry Biddlecombe and the champion these past 18 years has been the driven, non-drinking A.P. McCoy. Whose lifestyle does Sam find the more congenial? Is there time for a young man’s normal partying pleasures or does he spend evenings beating himself up about the races not won, his finger constantly on the replay button? ‘Obviously you are always trying to achieve the next step. You need a good night’s sleep and to prepare for every race. There’s lots of revision to be done and checking out the horse’s previous form. It’s the way you have to be nowadays, everybody’s very professional. If you’re not professional, there’s plenty of jockeys alongside you who’d be happy to ride it.’
How important is that family connection? ‘My Dad’s a great trainer but he’s an even better Dad and the success we have together is very special. It just means that bit more when you are achieving things together.’ Both, he says, offer each other criticism, too, but a key question is how long their close association will last. The hideous accident that befell Daryl Jacob at Cheltenham will keep him out for many months and Paul Nicholls has already said that Sam will be offered more rides in consequence. Sam’s father will not stand in his way when the big opportunity comes, and few would give large odds against Twiston-Davies one day being the No. 1 go-to rider at Ditcheat. Even Tony McCoy cannot last for ever but the blessing for racing is that the new generation of Sam Twiston-Davies and his friends Aidan Coleman and Nick Schofield, with whom he expects to contest the championship in years to come, are not only talented riders but true sportsmen too.