So many questions to answer

At the start of the weekend just gone it was announced that Sam Twiston-Davies, the third choice fully fledged jockey at Ditcheat would take the ride on the game’s greatest staying hurdler ever, Big Buck’s in the Cleeve Hurdle and also in the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Many were left pondering the reasoning behind the choice as it came as a shock decision to some, me included. Some thought Ruby Walsh, the former retained rider at Ditcheat may keep the ride given his fabulous and unbeaten hurdling relationship with the horse despite his ‘new’ and exclusive job with Willie Mullins. If not Ruby than surely Paul Nicholls’ new number one Daryl Jacob would come in for the ride?

Obviously now, neither have taken the opportunity, for various reasons, and Tony McCoy, a former winning partner on Big Buck’s also couldn’t commit given his rapport with J.P McManus. Paul Nicholls’ number two rider, Nick Scholfield was also shunned leaving Sam Twiston-Davies to pick up a fabulous spare.

Two days passed before Paul Nicholls (  and owner Andy Stewart (  had their say on the decision and why it was made.

Their respective pieces came, after much debate on social media/racing forums, in a bid to quash speculation about the decision. Nicholls gave his version of events in his regular Betfair column, a piece he was obviously happy with integrity wise given he retweeted it from his own Twitter account while Andy Stewart apparently gave Jim McGrath of The Times an exclusive, presumably via phone.

I’m sure Paul Nicholls and Andy Stewart felt they would ‘put the record straight’, but for me it still leaves many questions to be answered and now has actually added a few more.

While many will feel I’m a little ‘wet behind the ears’, but until proven I think we should believe Nicholls’ and Stewarts’ accounts on the matter. I’ve haven’t spent as much time in the game as most, but I’ve always found Nicholls to be straight, a lot straighter than most. Stewart I can’t commit on as I simply don’t know.

Let’s start with questions from the Nicholls column first given the chronological order of events.

Has Daryl Jacob lost his bottle?

Daryl has never given me the impression that he was mad keen to ride Big Buck’s”, said Nicholls in his Betfair piece. Why though? “Daryl explained how he viewed the ride, almost as if he saw it as something of a poisoned chalice”.

I honestly thought he’s the one horse in the yard you’d be itching to get on especially after the Exeter gallop, Daryl where you said “He looked good as well in the parade ring beforehand and it will do him the world of good, just sharpen him up a bit. He looks great and he felt good there today”.

I can see where you’re coming from with regards your poisoned chalice comments, but do you really think anyone will blame you should Big Buck’s be beaten given the serious nature of the injury he sustained, at the age of 11? Of course you’ll get people talking through their pockets and some uneducated comments, but you’re surely used to that by now?

You’re a well-spoken and an educated man. Would you really turn down a great chance to ride your second ever Grade One Cheltenham Festival winner, in a Championship race, which would be your first such success? It seems you have.

And what makes it even more staggering is how potentially uncompetitive the World Hurdle could be, or maybe even is when you compare the current line up to Big Buck’s.

Solwhit won’t be back. At Fishers Cross, the likely pretender to the crown from last year has been a huge disappointed. Annie Power is not certain to run and has trip concerns. Similar sentiments apply to More Of That. Boston Bob? Please! Reve De Sivola, how many times have you beaten him before? And finally, we know Big Buck’s is better than Celestial Halo. The rest simply aren’t even good enough to be mentioned. Or does he feel Zarkandar could turn him over?

Yes Big Buck’s will be 11 and coming back from injury, but we’ve already seen what Paul Nicholls can do with top class ageing horses and Big Buck’s is every inch the mould of a Kauto Star in terms of raw ability. Of course it’s a worry, but you ride for a master of his craft.

In terms of his injury you’ve already stated how happy you were with him, post-Exeter gallop so what’s changed?

Jacob knows more than us?

(I will say the above (question one) could well be harsh should this second point comes to fruition and if so I do apologises).

Jacob knows more than us, this really shouldn’t be a question – its fact. Being Ditcheat’s number one jockey Jacob is at H.Q on a regular basis and so sees the progression/struggles of the Nicholls string on a day to day basis.

Is it possible that Jacob’s has gone cold on Big Buck’s from what he sees at home? Is the unbeaten hurdler not showing the same old sparkle at Ditcheat? If this is the case you couldn’t blame Jacob for shying away from the ride.

If true than I’d have to agree the ride really is a “poisoned chalice” and totally understand Jacob’s coldness.

The problem with this however is Andy Stewart has publicly said Nicholls is happy with Big Buck’s: “Those who know him say he is still as good as when we last saw him on a racecourse” and surely the brilliant stayer wouldn’t be risked if not shining at home?

Why was Scholfield shunned?

Paul Nicholls said in his Betfair column “And if people say that Nick should have been the next choice of jockey for Big Buck’s, then they are barking up the wrong tree there, too”. I couldn’t agree less, Paul. Surely people should ask why the stable’s number two is not next in line given Ruby, AP and Jacob ruled themselves out?

I’d have thought Nick would’ve jumped at the chance of riding Big Buck’s especially in the World Hurdle where there would be no “second meeting” for him to be at especially given you have four or five possibles for that particular race.

And I imagine that the prospect of riding our horses at Doncaster on January 25, if needed – in the Skybet Chase, and possibly Hinterland and others there too – suits him just fine”. Doesn’t sound like you’ve asked your number two rider, theoretically your now number one in this instance, what he thinks?

It would be interesting to get Scholfield’s thoughts on this without his employer effectively putting words in his mouth.

How long will Nicholls and Jacob now last? Is Twiston-Davies next in line?

Nicholls putting out his Betfair column on the issue was a massive PR blunder for me. Usually so good at keeping things behind closed doors Nicholls has gone from one extreme to the other.

Now don’t get me wrong I’m a massive Nicholls fan, but surely publicly tearing into your number one jockey is not good for team morale? It can’t be good for the trainer/jockey relationship and it can’t be good for owners while it could also have serious effects on the riding confidence of Jacob. And so, stable success.

All the above can only go one way. Down. And it must get you thinking of how long the pair will last because I know if I was Jacob I wouldn’t be happy. That said, it can all be sorted by the pair so my questions could well be premature.

Should, and I’m not saying it will happen, Nicholls and Jacob part ways you’d have to think Sam Twiston-Davies is next in line. Nicholls obviously rates him highly. The 21-year-old was given the plum ride on Tidal Bay back in November despite his three previous rides for Nicholls coming up short. Jacob was injured at the time however.

Is Paul Nicholls ruthless? Yes. Is he right to be? Yes.

People will allude to the fact that Paul Nicholls is ruthless given the current situation and past history. Former jockeys of his, Joe Tizzard and Sam Thomas, were quickly shown the door when not coming up to what Nicholls obviously deemed, scratch.

People will say Nicholls is ruthless and maybe even have stronger words to be said, but I’d remind you horse racing is a competitive sport and a business. Nicholls is a competitor and has a family to feed and look after. (I know he’s not short of a few quid, but that’s not the point).

Should jockeys not come up to scratch for him he feels he will be letting himself down, his owners down and his business/family down. It’s not nice when people get shown the door, but is it wrong? Absolutely not if people are not performing. (This can’t be said of Jacobs this season).

Tough and difficult decisions have to be made in this game, and I won’t shy away from them”. I believe Nicholls when he says this and I commend him for it.

This similarly ties in with Andy Stewart too as one of the phrases that stuck out from his piece in The Times was “business decision”. Like Nicholls Stewart is a competitor and wants the best for his horse. Is that so wrong? No.

I know I wouldn’t want Jacob riding my horse given his frame of mind, if all said is true.

It’s been a manic few days with this story and we have yet to hear the thoughts of Jacob himself or Scholfield so there may be more to come.

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