Jump racing’s most important new partnership truly arrived after Sam Twiston-Davies rode a high-profile Cheltenham double for his boss Paul Nicholls.
It was announced at the end of April that the champion trainer had recruited one of the sport’s brightest young talents and their first important win came when Twiston-Davies persisted with 15-2 shot Sam Winner in the Murphy Group Handicap Chase.
But the best was yet to come in the Paddy Power Gold Cup as 10-1 chance Caid Du Berlais deprived reigning champion Johns Spirit by a head in a barnstorming finish to the Open meeting’s feature event.
Nicholls had been so worried about the testing conditions he nearly pulled out the five-year-old, and he had instructed Twiston-Davies to follow Johns Spirit and keep to the better ground on the outside of the course.
Johns Spirit, who has a big following at his local course, was produced in similar fashion to 12 months ago by Richie McLernon and went clear after jumping the final fence. Rather than 10st 2lb, though, he was saddled with 11st 12lb and the white-faced gelding could not cope with the final charge of Caid Du Berlais.
“He nearly didn’t run, so that’s fantastic,” said Nicholls. “Sam rode him brilliantly, he just kept on the outside and followed Richie.
“I put a tongue tie on as I thought soft ground had stopped him before.
“When they are well things like this happen, I thought he had a chance at the last. The plan was very much about today – this was his Gold Cup.
“Sam’s won with two different rides today that were top-drawer. He’s a good young man, he doesn’t panic and he’s improving all the time.
“As I’ve said before, it’s an investment for the future. This was a big day for Sam and I’m really pleased with him. He has done exactly what we asked him to. We’ll see where we go from here but I’m just happy it all came together today.”
He added: “I’ve not been worried about the stable form earlier this year. This is when you want them to come right – not in October. Most of the horses I’ve been running weren’t entitled to win anyway.”
Twiston-Davies said: “This is what it’s all about.
“I’ve got a lot of apologising to do as I told Paul not to run him, but he travelled and jumped – we rode him very differently.
“We just let him jump away, but it was impossible to get closer without expending too much energy by going wide. In fairness he really picked up after the last. It’s only his fourth run over fences. It’s a brilliant training performance.”
The jockey revealed he had read criticism of himself and said: “When people want to moan or be rude about me, it makes me more willing to prove them wrong.”
Johns Spirit got a terrific reception himself and trainer Jonjo O’Neill said: “He did everything right and it was just the weight that beat him. That’s Cheltenham. He ran a blinder. We’ll just get him home now and make a plan.”
Present View, the 5-1 favourite, was third and trainer Jamie Snowden said: “He ran brilliantly, it was just the ground. It just blunted his natural enthusiasm.”