Being replaced as number one jockey for the leading trainer in Jump racing looked to be a major blow for Daryl Jacob, when in April Paul Nicholls turned to Sam Twiston-Davies as the long term replacement for Ruby Walsh.
Jacob was offered the number-two job, but decided to make a fresh start and go freelance. Leaving the relative security of Ditcheat seemed a brave move, but professional pride would certainly have played a major part in his decision. At the time the jockey was philosophical when saying: “I have had a great four years. I won a National for Paul and had a couple of Cheltenham Festival winners and it’s been great to be part of the team that won the championship. We are the best of friends, and always will be. I just felt at this time this is what I wanted to do. As my old boss Robert Alner said, tomorrow is another day.”
It was certainly a turbulent time for Daryl. The Cheltenham Festival had been a source of great frustration. A narrow defeat aboard Katgary in the Fred Winter was followed by an agonising loss on Southfield Theatre in the Pertemps Final, when chinned on the line by Fingal Bay. Cameras captured Jacob’s post photo-finish reaction, revealing the true anguish of finishing runner-up in such an important race.
The final day at Cheltenham in March appeared to be one of changing fortunes, when Lac Fontana won the County Hurdle under a terrific ride. However, within minutes the 31-year-old was brought down to earth with an almighty bump. Port Melon crashed through barriers on his way to the start, sending his jockey tumbling onto the concrete of the Best Mate Enclosure. Daryl suffered a broken leg, knee and elbow that kept him away from the track till August.
His decision to go it alone was given an early boost when owners Bob and Jean Bishop gave him the high-profile ride on Cue Card after the retirement of Joe Tizzard. “When I decided to go freelance, I wasn’t expecting to cop a ride like this,” said Jacob, after partnering Cue Card to finish fourth in the Haldon Gold Cup. “I’m riding for plenty of different trainers and picking up plenty of spare rides. I know it was the right decision for me to make.”
Currently on 26 winners for the season he also landed the plum ride on Peace And Co at Doncaster for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. The Nicky Henderson trained juvenile caused quite a stir, and Daryl’s relationship with the owners ensures further great opportunities will come his way.
Arguably his best win of the season so far came on Saturday when he refused to accept defeat in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle on Reve De Sivola. Forcing the issue from the drop of the flag, he looked to be coming off second best until his willing accomplice fought back gamely to beat Ditcheat’s Zarkandar.
A similar aggressive ride could well be in order on Boxing Day, when Cue Card looks to go one place better than last year in the King George VI Chase. With the ground likely to be more in his favour, trainer Colin Tizzard appeared bullish when recently saying: “I think he goes there with a great chance. Expectations were massively high a year ago when he went to Kempton on the back of winning at Haydock, but what you have to remember is it rained an hour before the race, which turned the ground very soft, which he isn't as effective on. He wasn't quite 100 per cent at Haydock this year and had a good blow afterwards.”
Paul Nicholls’ Silviniaco Conti continues to head the market, and it would be some coincidence if Jacob was to deny his old boss a Grade 1 win for the second time in less than a week. He recently spoke of his ‘big-race’ mount: "I thought going into Haydock he would win and it was a little bit disappointing he didn't. But Colin and Joe [Tizzard] keep saying be confident and I'm confident in the Tizzards because the horses are in great form and they're great trainers. I've all the confidence they're going to bring the horse back to his best."
Few would begrudge rider or horse a famous victory in one of winter’s greatest chases.