THE STUBBORN ONE
Wednesday at the Cheltenham Festival was a massive day for the Twiston-Davies team as Sam drove The New One home, clear of Irish hotpot Pont Alexandre for his Dad Nigel, to set up a great week for the team, despite the pre-festival concerns over a bug in the yard.
Thursday brought the excitement of Mad Moose's intended run in the Byrne Group Plate. The meeting already had a sense of perspective as I was attending, as usual, with my brother Pete, who was recovering from a heart attack, only 3 weeks previously, so we were determined to enjoy our day.
The previous day, I had bumped into Oli Bell from Racing UK, who had been in touch, following reading my blog and we had agreed to meet up to do a piece for Racing UK about Mad Moose's chances and the excitement of having a runner at the festival. To my delight, we were able to do this on Thursday and Oli had mentioned that Moose was 'Quirky' to which I replied that he wasn't called Mad Moose for nothing. Neither of us or the Racing UK viewers were to know that this was to be a portent of what was to happen later in the afternoon.
Immediately after Solwhit had won the World Hurdle, we rushed down to the pre-parade ring to see our hero being saddled. Moose looked relaxed and was in tip top form, with everything in his favour. In the parade ring amongst the throng of connections of 24 horses, Sam was his usual really positive self, letting us know how he was going to hold on to Moose for as long as possible before going for it from the bottom of the mighty Cheltenham hill.
We rushed up to the Owners and Trainers viewing area, just behind Venetia Williams and her owners and exchanged Best of Lucks with Tim Vaughan, standing alongside of us. As had been the case all week, the horses were at the start very early and they circled for what seemed like ages before the crowd's roar told us that the horses were rushing out through the small gap to the shute to the very close starting line. Watching on the Big Screen, the field rushed to the first fence to be greeted by the Flag Man and the starter calling them back. No sight of Mad Moose until he was walked into view as the field regrouped at the starting line. Unfortunately the starter didn't ask them to circle to get Moose back into the group, so sadly the inevitable happened when he let them go again and Moose stood stock still as the field went on their way. After removing Head from Hands, we watched the finish before rushing back to the unsaddling for the story from Sam.
Sam's smile had turned to a scowl by the time he rode the 'Quirky' Mad Moose back to greet us. No reason but 'The Stubborn One' had just dug his heels in with no warning and from then on was never going to start. Sam was annoyed, Nigel embarrassed and the owners a mixture of amazement, laughter and disbelief. But as we said the Nigel, there's always another day.
Hindsight is a marvellous thing but the sight of the screens around the stricken Matuhi, who had fallen when challenging at the last in our race, was a real smack of perspective, as sadly were the horrific injuries that took jockey JT McNamara off to Frenchay hospital, where he still lies one week later.
Our prayers and sympathies are with JT and his family as they watch over him and not to forget the owners and stable staff of the David Pipe trained Matuhi, who lost his life when challenging for the lead at the last fence. Not for them the chance to pat their horse and call him a 'Naughty Boy' and refer to him as 'Quirky' next time he runs.
Mad Moose (The Stubborn One) will be back to prove himself at either Aintree or Punchestown (or both) and we might just leave him in a couple of races - 'JUST IN CASE!!!'