Tuesday 27 June 2017

Nigel Twiston-Davies: The Hauntin’ Taste of Naunton

Nigel Twiston-Davies started training, as a permit holder, in 1981 and trained his first winner, Last Of The Foxes, at Hereford the following year. However, after eight seasons in which his saddled 11 winners, in total, his training career really took off when he gained a full training licence in 1989. Since then, he has sent out over 1,800 winners from his base at Grange Hill Farm in Naunton, near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire but, more than once, has seriously considered winding up his training operation altogether.

On the first occasion, the victory of Bindaree in the 2002 Grand National – his second win in the race, following the success of Earth Summit in 1998 – provided the impetus to continue training rather than return to farming. On the second, a few years ago, the involvement of his sons, Sam and Willie – at the time aged 17 and 16, respectively – in the sport provided “a fresh incentive to go on and have more winners”. Sam, now 25, is the retained jockey of Paul Nicholls, while Willie, now 23, has retired from race riding and is “looking forward to what the future holds in bloodstock and eventually taking over from Dad”. It would appear, therefore, that any thoughts of early retirement have been set aside, permanently, by Twiston-Davies Snr.

Nigel Twiston-Davies endevours to compete with the likes of Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls for the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship, and had his second best season ever in 2016/17, in terms of number of winners and total prize money. He’s doing well in 2017/18, too, with 58 winners and just shy of £1.3 million in prize money, and currently lies third in the trainers’ table.

He’s had his fair share of Cheltenham Festival winners – 17 in total – notably Imperial Commander, winner of the Ryanair Chase in 2009 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2010, The New One in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle in 2013 and, more recently, Ballandy in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper and Blaklion in the RSA Chase, both in 2016. Blaklion also finished fourth in the 2017 Grand National and, having already landed a gamble in the Becher Chase over the National fences early in the 2017/18 season, is 10/1 favourite to provide Twiston-Davies with his third winner of the Aintree marathon come April.

Tuesday 13 June 2017

Charlie Hills: Blink and You’ll Miss Him

Charles, or ‘Charlie’, Hills is the son of former trainer Barry Hills and the brother of the twins, Michael and Richard Hills, both former jockeys. Having worked as assistant to his father for eight years, Charlie took over the training licence at Faringdon Place in Lambourn, Berkshire in 2011.

Charlie made a dream start to his training career, saddling a winner with his first runner, Blaise Chorus, in a maiden at Kempton in August of the same year. A month later, he trained his first Group winner, Ransom Note in the Group 2 Nayef Joel Stakes at Newmarket and, less than two years later, his first Classic winner, Just The Judge, in the Irish 1,000 Guineas.

Charlie Hills has developed a fine reputation for handling sprinters, so it’s probably no coincidence that two of the best horses he has trained, so far, have been progressive young speedsters. In 2015, he trained Muharrar, a three-year-old colt by Oasis Dream, to win the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, the July Cup at Newmarket, the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville and British Champions Sprint Stakes back at Ascot on Champions Day. Muharrar – described by his trainer as “the best I’ve trained” – became the first three-year-old sprinter to win four races at the highest level in a single season and, in so doing, achieved a Timeform Rating of 132.

In 2017, Battaash, a three-year-old colt by the excellent young sire Dark Angel, emerged as a new sprinting star. Battaash smashed the course record time when sweeping his rivals aside in the Sprint Stakes at Sandown in July and was equally impressive when following up in King George Stakes at Goodwood the following month. Following the latter performance, winning jockey Jim Crowley said, “I never felt like I was in trouble at any stage. He has so much natural speed. I don't think I've ridden a better sprinter.”

Battaash could keep on at one pace to finish fourth, beaten 5¼ lengths, behind Marsha in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York but, back on soft ground, took his revenge in no uncertain terms at Chantilly in October. Sent off favourite for the Prix de l’Abbaye, Battaash made just about all the running to win, unchallenged, by 4 lengths. Battaash achieved a Timeform Rating of 136 to top the Timeform Global Rankings for 2017 alongside Champion Stakes winner Cracksman. Battaash has reportedly wintered well and is already in light exercise ahead of his intended reappearance in the Temple Stakes at Haydock in May, all being well.

Monday 5 June 2017

David Simcock: Onward and Upward

Nowadays, David Simcock has over a hundred horses in his yard at Trillium Place, Newmarket and, in 2017, saddled 64 winners and amassed over £1 million in total prize money for the fourth season in a row. His highlights that year included Bless Him in the Britannia Stakes at Royal Ascot, Breton Rock in the Qatar Lennox Stakes at Goodwood and Lightning Spear in the Grosvenor Sport Celebration Mile Stakes, also at Goodwood. Simcock has also made an excellent start to 2018, saddling 10 winners from 67 runners, so far, and collecting just over £125,000 in total prize money.

However, winners have not always come quite so easily for the 45-year-old, who learnt his trade with Ian Balding (father of Andrew Balding), Major Dick Hern and Luca Cumani before taking out a training licence, in his own right, in 2004. In his first three seasons, he saddled a total of just 23 winners but, thereafter, his numbers started to steadily improve. In 2009, he trained 44 winners and exceeded £500,000 in total prize money for the first time, thanks in large part to the 3-year-old Darley Sun, runaway winner of the totesport.com Cesarewitch at Newmarket.

However, his breakthrough year was 2010, when he saddled his first Group winner, Bushman in the Investec Diomed Stakes at Epsom and his first Group 1 winner, Dream Ahead in the Darley Prix Morny at Deauville. Indeed, Dream Ahead also won the Shadwell Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket later that season and, in 2011, was named Cartier Sprinter of the Year after winning the Darley July Cup at Newmarket, Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock and Qatar Prix de la Foret at Longchamp.

Simcock has never been afraid to campaign his horses internationally and landed his first Grade 1 success in North America with I’m A Dreamer in the Beverley D. Stakes at Arlington Park, Chicago in 2011. Three years later, in 2014, he landed a memorable double with Sheikhzayedroad in the Northern Dancer Turf Stakes and Trade Storm in the Ricoh Woodbine Miles Stakes at Woodbine, Toronto on the same day in September.

Just over a month later, Ryan had his biggest payday ever, at least so far, when Madame Chiang won the Qipco Champion Fillies & Mares Stakes at Ascot. The following season, he saddled his first winner at Royal Ascot, Balios, in the King Edward VII Stakes and, the one after, won both the Doncaster Cup and the Qipco Long Distance Series Cup at Ascot with the aforementioned Sheikhzayedroad.