A rough passage through the early stages of last week’s King George contributed to the first ever fall in the career of Bristol De Mai, according to his trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies. The grey had never failed to complete the course in his 25 previous races over obstacles but got no further than the ninth on Boxing Day, hitting the fence after taking an extra stride in the manner of a horse that had lost its confidence.
“He just didn’t like it,” the trainer reflected between races here on Monday. “He didn’t have a very clear run, he was being bashed by every horse in the race. Thistlecrack gave him a hard time.”
The collision between Thistlecrack and Bristol De Mai came at the first fence, when Thistlecrack jumped to his right and bumped into the grey’s shoulder as he landed. It was an early scare that seemed to cost Bristol De Mai rather more, in ground and momentum, than the other horse, who eventually finished second.
Daryl Jacob tried to settle Bristol De Mai in midfield thereafter but soon found himself alongside Native River, who rarely runs at right-handed tracks like Kempton and jumped slightly to his left throughout the race. On several occasions that appeared to bring him into contact with Bristol De Mai, though not at the ninth where the grey seemed to have a clear view on his approach to the fence.
Without blaming anyone, Twiston-Davies said he was “sure” the repeated contact from other runners had been a factor in Bristol De Mai’s eventual fall. But he reported that the horse had suffered “no ill effects”.
On his previous start Bristol De Mai was an impressive winner of the Betfair Chase, when he coped better with the stiff Haydock fences than his rivals. He is clearly top-class at his best but the betting market is frank in doubting that he can show it in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, for which he is 40-1.
“We’ll have to have a big talk with the owners about what happens next,” Twiston-Davies said. “Everything’s open.” Last season the horse skipped the Cheltenham Festival altogether in order to be fresh for Aintree in April, where he chased home Might Bite.
Nico de Boinville was another man trying to make sense of the King George as he reflected on Might Bite’s fading into seventh, the second time in a row he has failed to beat a rival. “I was happy enough all the way round until four out and then he just didn’t find as much as he used to,” the jockey said. “We’ll put that behind us and go again somewhere, see if we can get back on track.”
Meanwhile, it was revealed that Summerville Boy, winner of the Supreme Novice Hurdle at the last Festival, has a hairline fracture to a hind leg which may explain his disappointing efforts this season. He could yet return to action at some point in the spring.