“Who Dares Wins” is the SAS motto. The jump jockeys risks are almost cosy by comparison but it was the SAS slogan that Ruby Walsh adopted when the tapes went up at Sandown and he let Twist Magic blaze in the Tingle Creek.
In conditions so rain-sodden that racing was only held after an early morning inspection a hell-for-leather attack round this two mile trip was always liable to leave Walsh with little horse under him as he faced up those last two fences andthat final strength sapping climb. But Sandown’s obstacles reward an athlete who can operate – and yesterday Twist Magic was very much on “Operations Day.”
It is not always thus. At Kempton last Christmas the horse didn’t want to line up for the start and didn’t show much enthusiasm in the race. “He’s a quirky character” said Paul Nicholls who was saddling his 5th consecutive Tingle Creek winner and his 7th in the last ten years. “Sometimes you don’t know whether he will come back up the gallop but when he is spot on he is very good. He was spot on today.”
Of course it is easy in hindsight. But as Twist Magic flew over the first of the 13 fences his 4 rivals included the cream of the two mile chasers with the exception of his stable mate, the injured champion Master Minded. Tony McCoy on the Arkle Chase winner Forpaddytheplaster led the pursuit from the Irish favourite Big Zeb in front of Mahogany Blaze and Well Chief who had both beaten Master Minded last time out at Cheltenham.
The situation didn’t change until they swung into the backstraight with its unique mix of three quick fences only 120 yards apart, a longer spin over the water jump and then three even quicker obstacles. Racing, or even the wider world of sport, offers no greater thrill than firing half a ton of thoroughbred over four foot of birch at something approaching 40 miles an hour the way it happens at Sandown.
“It was electric,” said Ruby Walsh, eyes alight as if it were a rookie’s wonder, “at the first fence down the back he came up a long, long way from it and was really fizzing. When he lands he brings his hind legs right in front of his back legs and it catapults him forward. It was terrific. I thought that if I pushed on I might get the others in trouble.”
Ruby was right. As Twist Magic soared, spring-heeled from fence to fence his rivals toiled increasingly leaden footed in his wake. Forpaddytheplaster kept distant tabs on him in second but Mahogany Blaze lapsed badly in at the very first down the backstretch, Well Chief was never comfortable and any hopes that Sandown’s intense examination would pull Big Zeb’s faulty jumping together were sprayed like birch in the wind.
By the time Walsh aimed Twist Magic back towards the stands completion was Big Zeb’s only ambition and he came in 9 long lengths after Well Chief who was the same distance behind Forpaddytheplaster who was all of 15 lengths off the runaway winner at the line. After Kauto Star’s Betfair Chase and Denman’s Hennessy, this is the third consecutive Saturday that Walsh and Nicholls have taken the weekend’s big event but the jockey’s front running tactics also had input from a former member of the team.
“This morning I was wondering if I dared make the running on him,” said Ruby Walsh. “I had made all on him at Fakenham in his first chase three years ago. But that was a tin pot contest so I rang Sam Thomas (second jockey for Nicholls last season) and he gave me encouragement which made my mind up.” That’s another watchword of the regiment – “Look after your own.”