The top National Hunt trainers are a special breed.
They have to be intuitive to the strengths and weaknesses of the equine athletes entrusted to them, satisfy the desires of the owners, and plot the work and racing schedules of big strings of horses to deliver as many winners as possible.
Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls are never ones to underplay the role of their stable staff at Lambourn and Ditcheat.
On Saturday Nicholls has three runners in the Grand National, and Henderson one. On top of the Cotswolds sits Nigel Twiston-Davies’ yard at Naunton. His set up is smaller, but he too has three entries among eight in all from Gloucestershire – that’s a fifth of the field of 40.
On Saturday, Nigel’s son Sam rides the top weight Imperial Commander in Aintree’s most famous race.
Back in 1998, Sam was five years old when his father won the Grand National with Earth Summit, but even the genial Desmond Lynam couldn’t coax Nigel in front of a microphone. “I don’t do interviews” came the reply, which left winning jockey Carl Llewellyn to fill the breach.
As time has passed, Twiston Davies Snr has softened to the media. He can be both pithy and witty, and his immense knowledge is shown at the annual autumn gathering at Naunton to outline his prospects for the season. The brownies and port on offer at 11am show him as a man who is far from vanilla.
So far this season, the highlight among his 70 winners has probably been Sam riding The New One to win the Neptune Investment Management Novice Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
On Saturday, the 20 year old will partner Imperial Commander because stable jockey Paddy Brennan is sidelined by a whip ban, and having twice completed the course in the race, he’s got more experience than some jockeys twice his age.
As a former Gold Cup winner, Imperial Commander is the class horse in a race that is, above all, a handicap. To replicate the success of the New One in the Grand National would be something father and son would find hard to better,
Twiston Davies’ two other runners are near the bottom of the handicap in Viking Blond and Major Malarkey. Martin Keighley, Kim Bailey Tom George and Jonjo O’Neill – who came within a nose of winning the race last year with Sunnyhillboy – are all represented as well.
Gloucestershire is invading Aintree – but with no guarantees of winning a race which over the years has been compared to a lottery because of its challenging fences and gruelling distance.