Izzy Phillips: My Day At Cheltenham And A Trip To The Twiston-Davies Yard

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Our columnist Izzy Phillips takes a look back at her visit to Cheltenham's Showcase Meeting last weekend, while she was given a real treat before racing as she got to visit the stable of Nigel Twiston-Davies, where she met some old favourites. Find out which former legends of the Naunton yard she got to meet here...

It felt so good to be back at Cheltenham for their Showcase Meeting. I felt happier in myself even to just be mentioning Cheltenham again. I was going with Raceday this week to present on their socials. The build up to the weekend was relatively straight-forward. Work was crazily busy - as always. I was also keeping an eye on the weather as I was getting quite concerned at the lack of rain and dwindling field sizes (luckily the biblical rainfall eventually came). However, there was a midweek treat, I found out on Wednesday that I would be starting Saturday off by going to visit Nigel Twiston-Davies’ stable.

If you know me you’ll know how excited I was by this. I am a huge fan of the Twiston-Davies yard. I know a few people that follow particular yards or trainers and I'm always interested to hear where it all began. I have followed the Twiston-Davies yard ever since I was off school sick in around Year 10. My Dad was on holiday for Cheltenham Festival week and I was moping around the house. To cheer me up my Dad told me to pick out a horse - I went for Ballyfitz. I made a miraculous recovery to cheer him home as he won what I later found out was the Pertemps Final.

Ever since then I have followed the Twiston-Davies yard. When I first started following them the stable jockey was Paddy Brennan. Some of my favourites he rode were Astracad, Pigeon Island and Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander. Then came the Sam Twiston-Davies era - my Grandad told me that he was the same age as me and I was fascinated that someone my age was doing all of their coursework and GCSEs and riding Cheltenham Festival winners at the same time! Following Sam I went on to support favourites like Hello Bud, Baby Run, The New One and Ballyandy. Safe to say I was elated to find out that I'd have the opportunity to meet the team and their current stable stars.

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Cheltenham Festival News

Saturday came and I set off at 6:45am to get to Grange Hill Farm for 9am (I did leave a little extra time for traffic - there was no way I was going to risk being late). When I arrived I was lucky enough to be welcomed by Nigel and have the opportunity to chat with him whilst walking up to the, absolutely stunning, gallops. We were watching the horses having a canter and I noticed a horse in a paddock behind wallowing in mud, rolling around having the best time.

I gave a little chuckle and Willy said ‘oh that’s Bindaree’. I was so shocked - 28-year-old Grand National winning Bindaree. He’s almost as old as me!

Then Willy points next to him and says ‘and that’s Baby Run’. I had to confess that these two are like celebrities to me.

He asked if I wanted to meet them and I tried to stay as calm as possible when I said yes. I’m always an advocate for horse racing in the sense that it’s clear to see the horses get the best care in the world. But what really shone with these two is just how much they are genuinely loved. Willy went over to Baby Run and the affection is so clear to see.

Willy Twiston-Davies having a moment with Baby Run
Willy Twiston-Davies having a moment with Baby Run

We all chatted on the gallops for a while and I felt compelled to ask who their best chance of the season was. Nigel was quite certain that his best prospect was Weveallbeencaught. He was an all-star purchase at the January Cheltenham sales and has been bred to be a staying chaser. Nigel didn’t say which races he was aiming for so one to get in the tracker. Willy was quite besotted with a horse on the gallops called Benny Silver (he holds an entry this Sunday in the 16:13 at Carlisle). Once we’d finished up the gallops we went to visit more of the stable stars. I was most taken by Bristol De Mai who seemed to know his place at the top of the pecking order and was intent on having a nibble of the Raceday mic. Then I saw his stable neighbour Ballyandy. The polar opposite to Bristols, he was so calm and placid and quite happy to have a cuddle. I mentioned in my previous article that one of my New Year’s resolutions was to visit a racing yard for a stable tour…to visit the Twiston-Davies stable is more of a bucket list item for me!

Bristol De Mai having a nibble of the Raceday mic
Bristol De Mai having a nibble of the Raceday mic

Then after a quick change we were off to the races. There was such a buzz about the place. Our first job was to get pictures of racegoers with the mic. One thing I love about Cheltenham is the fashions. I personally really struggle with Summer fashion. I’m not a lover of hats and I never know which colours to go for.

But Cheltenham style has real staples. I love the look of the green tweeds and the tan suede that are everywhere. I definitely found a lot of inspiration for my outfit for the November meeting.

On Saturday though I forewent the tweed and suede and instead went for a leather look. Something a little different for me and I felt like a Charlie’s Angel all day. If it wasn’t for the inherent fear of ripping my trousers I'd have been roundhouse kicking my way around the racecourse. 

On the day there were some great racing stories centering around the usual Irish domination. Willie Mullins had one runner and one winner in the form of Dads Lad. As well as victories for Charles Byrnes and two for Gordon Elliott. One of Elliott's winners was Pied Piper in another battle with his Aintree rival Knight Salute. I was dead set on Knight Salute getting the better of Pied Piper but I was wrong on this occasion. It was time for Pied Piper to exact his revenge for Aintree. Knight Salute was switched a couple of times on the run home and I'm hopeful, as are the stable, that he’s better than he showed on this run and will come on for his next one.

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Our role with Raceday though is to cover more of the social content. One of the features was the 4000 students that had descended on the Best Mate enclosure for their Invade day. I was a little concerned about the level of carnage that may have been going on, especially with a name like ‘Invade’. But once Charlie and I had settled into the vibe of the enclosure it was clear to see they were having great fun (and actually a reminder of how much fun it is to be a student)! It was the 4th race and up in the stands they were roaring their horses home with such vigour. It struck me then what a fantastic initiative it was. What a way to inspire the next racing generation than providing an excellent day out with all of their friends. I wish it was something that has existed when I was a student as I'd have definitely taken advantage and invited a load of friends. After the racing, although I didn’t attend, I did see that there was a lively after party too! 

After a super early start and an exhilarating day of racing it was time to go. I do usually love making sure that I eat out or get a takeaway after racing as I'm usually too tired to cook. So it was off to a friend’s for a takeaway and to take stock of what was another fantastic day on track and to sit for hours scrolling through all of the pictures I took of Ballyandy. 

This week I take my first trip to a Northern track as I make my way to the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby. I’m quite lucky that where I live I've never needed to travel too far for a day at the races with plenty of tracks in close proximity. I've somewhat neglected those that are a bit further afield but I love visiting new places and cannot wait to see what Wetherby holds!

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