According to Nige...
"I like him, he's my Pertemps fancy," says Nigel Twiston-Davies, breaking off from his staccato commentary of the horses he's parading on a gloomy Gloucestershire morning in front of the assembled press.
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It's organised chaos at his Grange Hill Farm, a gazebo protecting a table of sausage and bacon sandwiches from the elements, the gazebo itself sheltered by a racing green double-decker bus.
Clad in his beige duffel coat, hood up, Twiston-Davies gave a running commentary of his Cheltenham Festival team that were cantering up the gallop.
"Imperial Commander - Gold Cup. The New One - Neptune. African Gold - the Alfred Bartlett," rat-a-tat tats NTD, showing a distinct lack of respect for the potato king, made famous among racing fans for his support of staying novice hurdles up and down the land.
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But Twiston-Davies isn't too concerned about facts, just his horses. At one point he claims Imperial Commander is the only one in the Gold Cup to win a Gold Cup, until one of the hacks coughs 'Long Run' politely.
'Ah, apologies to Mr Chairman Waley-Cohen!' laughs Twiston-Davies before saying 'I only concentrate on my own horses.' And there's plenty to concentrate on. Imperial Commander is 'as good as he was three years ago', The New One 'WILL take it up at the last' in the Neptune and African Gold could be 'in years to come an Imperial Commander type'.
Yet this bullishness is almost mumbled by accident, with Twiston-Davies continually reminding us he will be the underdog when the Festival rolls into nearby Cheltenham in three weeks' time. For the 'goliaths' that are messrs Henderson, Nicholls and Mullins, Twiston-Davies is one of the 'Davids' and he's happy it is that way.
"No one is expecting an awful lot but I'm happy," he says. "It wasn't fun when the Commander was favourite for the Gold Cup as everyone thought he'd win and so did I. Only things can go wrong then. It's a kick in the nuts when they get beat. It's more fun when they're not expected."
But so pleased has he been with his team this season that perhaps big things are expected.
"It's the strongest squad we've had for a bit really with the Commander back and some exciting novices. We haven't got the money to go out and spend big bucks but it's nice when the cheap ones win and this season they have been excelling themselves."
Master Of The Seas is one such beast. He's won four on the bounce including a decent Newbury handicap off a mark of 130 last time. It looks like he's going for the Coral Cup and while Twiston-Davies will be eagerly awaiting his position in the weights, set to be announced at Cheltenham on Wednesday, he's already 'excited' about his chances with the 'potential for more improvement still there.'
But the two I took from the morning were The Cockney Mackem and his Pertemps fancy, the one he likes - as mentioned in paragraph one.
The Cockney Mackem was second in the Byrne Group Plate at last year's Festival and has only run twice since, most recently his seasonal reappearance in a handicap hurdle behind Kuilsriver at Ascot. It was an eye-catching run, particularly considering he's going to be on a similar mark to last year when he's back over fences in the Pulteney Land Novices' Handicap Chase.
But why the absence? I asked the question and soon regretted it as NTD described in graphic detail a colic operation that had me wincing with sympathy for poor old Cockney. But he's back now, in good form, and Twiston-Davies was verbally and physically (sort of) excited about his chances at the Festival off what could be a 'very good mark'.
And his Pertemps fancy?
"Imperial Commander - Gold Cup. The New One - Neptune. ACCORDING TO TREV - Pertemps. I like him, he's my Pertemps fancy. Pigeon Island - Grand Annual. Master Of The Seas - Coral Cup. Major Malarkey - four-miler. African Gold - Alfred Bartlett...."
He's the horse that knocked him out of his rhythm, and later he purred (spoke) about his 'excellent' chance in the race off a low weight on better ground. So, according to Nige it's According To Trev. And that's good enough for me.