by Mark Souster
Everybody loves the thought of becoming a millionaire. That’s why the National Lottery and the long-running quiz show now hosted by Jeremy Clarkson are so popular. It’s safe to say, then, that the Jockey Club’s £1 million bonus for jump racing’s Chase Triple Crown has in its own way created huge interest and enlivened the Jumps scene.
Colin Tizzard and Nigel Twiston Davies are two of the biggest advocates of an initiative which provides a seven figure sum to the connections of a horse which wins the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park, the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day and the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup in the same season.
The pair have extolled its virtues and gear much of their early season planning around a tilt at a prize which is covered by an insurance premium and would be split between owner (65%), trainer (15%), stable staff (10%) and jockey (10%).
Tizzard of course came closest to winning the pot with Cue Card three years ago. Twiston Davies had a decent shot at it last season with Bristol De Mai, who won the Betfair Chase, fell in the Boxing Day extravaganza and finished third at Cheltenham.
Both set out again on the trail with the first leg and the opening Grade 1 of the season taking place this weekend. Tizzard sends out LostinTranslation, but Twiston Davies - now in his 30th season as a trainer - would appear to have the upper hand with Bristol De Mai.
The eight-year-old mudlark grey is unbeaten on four starts at Haydock and is looking to join the likes of the aforementioned Cue Card and Kauto Star in winning the race three times. It will also be a first run of the season for a horse who tends to go particularly well when fresh.
Bristol de Mai won the three-mile contest by an astonishing 57 lengths in 2017 and was also impressive last year when scoring by a decisive four lengths from Gold Cup winner Native River.
“Bristol De Mai is as well as he has always been. There have been no issues or setbacks ahead of the Betfair Chase, " Twiston Davies said.
“I think he proved at Cheltenham that he is the third best horse in England and Ireland. The two Irish horses (Al Boum Photo and Anibale Fly) that finished in front of him are not coming over on Saturday, so he should win it.
"But there is obviously more pressure when you think you have the best horse in the race, rather than being the underdog.
"Assuming all goes well, the plan is to go down the same route as last year by heading on to Kempton and Cheltenham. We have to think about the million quid if he wins nicely on Saturday. Without the £1m you probably wouldn't go."
While it is a seasonal debut for the horse, we might also get a first glimpse of the fabled beige duffle coat which is as much of a Twiston Davies trademark as his acerbic wit and gruff exterior.
It is he says the warmest coat on the market. It is of the type which reminds him of Tony, his father who wore such apparel in the Royal Navy during the Second World War.
He served on mine sweepers in the North Sea and on protection duties for the Arctic convoys. One of his responsibilities was chipping away the ice which formed on the foredeck. Like many of his ilk, his father never spoke of his experiences, but did sing the praises of the coat especially in such raw conditions. “Dad was right,” he says.
Speaking of fathers and sons, Twiston Davies admits that leaving both a legacy and a viable business for his two sons Sam and Willie does spur him on. Having been first jockey to Paul Nicholls, Sam is now freelance whilst Willie quit the saddle in 2017 and works in bloodstock.
“I wouldn’t work so hard or have any of this if it wasn’t for the boys,” said Twiston Davies, who also has three young children with his current wife Vicky. “You’re doing it for them and it makes it more worthwhile. The boys will take over from me one day and the enjoyment of having a son ride a winner for you is unbeatable.”
It remains to be seen if Bristol De Mai is just as unbeatable at Haydock Park – but we’ll know more come Saturday afternoon.