From the horse's mouth: Nigel Twiston-Davies on his Festival challenge
Nigel Twiston-Davies is hoping hard work pays off when his well-drilled troops take to the Prestbury Park battlefield next week.
The Guiting Power trainer suffered a huge blow when flag-bearer Imperial Commander was ruled out of the Festival with a lung infection.
But Twiston-Davies has risen to countless challenges before and next week's Festival gives him another chance to outgun his rivals.
"It gets harder every year because we haven't got the money to go out and buy the expensive horses," he said.
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"So it's nice when our little 'cheapies' come out and do the job. It's hard work but it's more satisfying."
He learned his trade working for trainers such as Fred Rimell, David Nicholson and close pal Kim Bailey when riding as an amateur, registering 17 wins under Rules.
He started training in 1981, combining farming with training his family's horses, before taking out a full licence at Grange Hill Farm in 1989.
Twiston-Davies has since gone in to saddle 13 Festival winners in a profession he describes as "better than working for a living."
"You're at home and I'm lucky enough that it's my own place – I share it with the banks – and it's okay," he said.
"I could do without the stresses but other than that it's a good way of life.
"I'm feeling quite happy because no-one is expecting an awful lot. The more nothing's expected and the better you do it's more fun.
"I have been very pleased with how the season's been going because I didn't think we'd have a good season at all at the beginning, but it's been all right.
"I didn't think we had enough good horses but they've excelled themselves."
Twiston-Davies' best chance of adding to 13 winners looks to be the The New One in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle, which he won with Gaelstrom in 1993 and Fundamentalist in 2004.
The five-year-old has gone on to prove himself one of the top young hurdling prospects in Britain and Ireland since finishing sixth in the Champion Bumper at last year's Festival.
He lost his unbeaten record over hurdles on Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham in January.
He appeared to have the race in his grasp but was caught in the closing stages by leading Festival contender At Fishers Cross.
Twiston-Davies said: "He's obviously got a huge burst of speed and in hindsight – it's an easy thing isn't it? – we probably used it a bit too soon last time.
"We'll probably look to take it up going to the last, I expect, but there's no point just sitting there and making a mistake at the last and getting run out of it, so it's difficult.
"But the ground cannot be as bad as it was last time he ran.
"Best chance? I hope they've all got good chances but obviously he's the shortest price and the bookies are cleverer than most of us, so maybe he is."
In-form duo targeting Festival riches:
African Gold and Master Of The Sea have been two of the biggest success stories of the season for Nigel Twiston-Davies.
The duo have won nine races between them this term and will be looking to add to their already impressive run at the Festival.
African Gold is likely to line-up in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle after racking up five wins from six races this term.
Twiston-Davies said: "He has done everything we wanted of him this season.
"He is lovely and I really like him – he is superb.
"I think the extra distance and better ground will improve him a lot.
"I am hoping in years to come that he will be another Imperial Commander type. He is a great big strong horse."
Master of the Sea made it four wins in a row with his best performance to date at Newbury last time out.
Twiston-Davies is hoping the six-year-old can maintain his progress in one of the most competitive races of the whole meeting, the Coral Cup.
"He has been a revelation this season, going up a lot in the handicap," he said.
"We have not got to the bottom of him yet – he keeps improving.
"I would be very excited about the Coral Cup."
Twiston-Davies predicted an improved performance from According To Trev compared with recent runs should the ground dry out at Prestbury Park next week.
He made a good impression when winning his first two races of the season at Worcester and Cheltenham, but he has suffered defeat on his past three races in softer conditions.
Twiston-Davies said: "He is my fancy for the Pertemps.
"He does not have much weight and his form will be better than in recent races if the ground improves.
"The drier the ground the better his chance."
Festival heroes are back again:
One of the big attractions of jump racing is enjoying old favourites returning to the Festival year after year.
Among the stalwarts at Grange Hill Farm are past Festival winners Pigeon Island and Kayf Aramis, who are both ready for another crack at Prestbury Park glory.
Pigeon Island won the Grand Annual in 2010 – the final leg of a last-day treble for the stable – and he may go for that race again.
Twiston-Davies said: "He has been very consistent in all the top races, earning prize-money for being placed, and he is in the form of his life."
Kayf Aramis gained the biggest win of his career to date in the 2009 Pertemps Final when trained by Venetia Williams.
Owned by Isobel Phipps Coltman from Gloucester, he is set to line up in the race for a remarkable fifth time and for the 17th time at Cheltenham.
Among the younger horses, Tour Des Champs has made a promising start to his career with three wins this term.
He could run in the JLT Specialty Handicap Chase after finishing third at Ascot last time out.
Twiston-Davies said: "He made a bad mistake at Ascot last week and could have run a big race there because he really stays on."
Same Difference, who was fifth at Kempton on his latest run, may head for the John Oaksey National Hunt Chase, which Twiston-Davies won with Tricky Trickster in 2009.
"He was a novice against old handicappers and he was running on well at the end," said Twiston-Davies.