Start your engines; it’s Tuesday of the Cheltenham Festival and Sam Twiston-Davies chats to cheltenham.co.uk ahead of his ride in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
Son of father Nigel, Sam landed Champion Chase glory aboard Dodging Bullets at the Festival six years ago.
He now heads to Prestbury Park for the 2021 edition chasing his first victory at the prestigious event since 2016; Solar Impulse the winner of the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual. A local lad, Cheltenham Festival clearly holds a strong place in the heart of Twiston-Davies who has enjoyed more than 70 victories on the track so far this campaign.
And the 28-year-old reflects on some of his favourite Gloucestershire moments in March, who he’s siding with in the Champion Hurdle and life outside the saddle.
Baby Run provide you with your first Cheltenham Festival winner in the St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase in 2010, describe what that was like for you and the family?
Baby Run’s win was an incredibly special day for me and all of the family. Everyone was there – he meant a lot to us all as Willie ended up winning the Aintree Foxhunter’s on him, and he was just a very special horse. Being brought up in and around Cheltenham, it’s obviously a very special race so to get your first winner there with all the family there and with what was a family horse made it extra special.
Back in 2010/11, you were crowned Champion Conditional with 59 winners, give us a young jockey to look out for?
Jordan Nailor has been doing very well for us recently at home. He’s a good lad and works really hard, is understanding of a race and keeps getting better as he’s come through. Also another lad I have a lot of time for who’s switched yards recently is William Marshall. He claims 7lbs with Jonjo O’Neill now, and his worth ethic is fantastic. I enjoy watching him ride winners so hopefully he can keep getting more.
The New One provided you with some of your best days in the saddle thus far, what one stands out the most for you?
Probably the Neptune (now Ballymore) stood out most because what he did that day was incredibly smart. He jumped brilliantly and quickened up really nicely, but obviously the hardest one was the Champion Hurdle when he got hampered by Our Conor which was incredibly sad. The long and short of it all is that he was an incredible horse and one we were incredibly lucky to have.
What horse are you most looking forward to riding at this year’s Festival and why?
It’s an incredibly competitive year so I’d say Sage Advice in the Fred Winter. He’s got some good form and has had three nice runs. Hopefully, nice-ish ground and a fast pace should suit him well. Another race that I would have a chance is the Kim Muir. Sadly, amateurs can’t be there but there’s a horse called Crievehill who’s back down to a winnable mark.
How much do racegoers play their part at the Festival, will Cheltenham be the same without the crowd?
This year will be incredibly strange without a crowd and it will of course change the atmosphere a lot. The racing itself will still be incredibly competitive, and sometimes the crowd cheering and shouting helps some horses and doesn’t help others. This will be the case without a crowd but even so, very sad they cannot be there.
How do you see the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup paying out and who would you like to be riding if you had the choice?
I’d personally love to see either Goshen or Epatante win the Champion Hurdle. Goshen is a very, very talented horse and Jamie Moore who is on-board is an absolute legend. Aidan Coleman would then be one of my best friends in the weighing room, so I’d also love to see him do well. I think the Gold Cup will go to Al Boum Photo. They plan for it all year around and you could say he’s had a good prep, and it’s exactly as they’ve done in the past so you’d say he is the one they all have to beat, but it will still be a fantastic race.
What hobbies and interests do you have outside of racing?
It’s quite hard to have too many hobbies – our agents like to keep us busy! But in the winter I like to do as much hunting as possible and if we ever get a day of skiing, that’s also good fun as well. Otherwise, I keep my head down and work hard.
What’s your favourite memory growing up of all your Dad’s winners, you can’t have been very old when Earth Summit and Bindaree won their Grand Nationals?
One of the best memories I have with dad and Willie was going up to watch Ollie Magern win the Charlie Hall in what were very special days. His owner Roger Nicholls was a great bloke and he always used to have a bet on the horse for Willie and myself. It seemed like at the time when the horse won, we had a lot of money for sweets! Even so, I remember standing in the enclosures watching him and cheering him home – a memory I’ll always cherish with dad and Willie.
Favourite racecourse and why?
I love Stratford. It’s obviously very close to home and we seem to have a lot of luck there. The track is very well maintained, and also Worcester as well – you always like the courses where you get a few winners. Cheltenham is obviously our home track but it’s incredibly hard to ride winners around there, so Stratford and Worcester would be my favourite tracks.
Apart from you Dad, who has been the most influential in your career to date?
Other than dad, Carl Llewellyn would definitely be the most influential person in my career. Not just on the riding side has he been fantastic, but on the financial side as well. When you’re young and starting to get a little bit of success it’s very easy to get carried away, but he kept me very grounded and pointed me in the right direction. He always said that bricks and water were your safest bet, so I managed to get a hand into the property market and long may it continue. He’ll always be a legend to me and someone I’ll always look up to.