Tizzard was distinctly non-league 20 years ago when he decided training a couple of point-to-point horses for his son, Joe, to ride would be a welcome diversion to dairy farming.
It took him 10 years to train 100 winners and they were of the bread-and-butter variety.
Against the odds, Tizzard has steadily risen up the leagues and now he is almost top of the table. This season he will celebrate his best in terms of winners and prize money. He has got 10-time champion Paul Nicholls looking over his shoulder.
Tizzard’s squad of horses for Cheltenham is the envy of most others and includes the first and second favourite for tomorrow’s Gold Cup. He would have had the first three in the betting had Thistlecrack, the brilliant King George VI Chase winner, not suffered a tendon injury.
Ask him the secret to his success and he is refreshingly modest.
“Luck,” he says. “An awful amount of luck. The top trainers (he does not seem to include himself among them) have got top agents buying horses and they are paying good money. They are good trainers with the best jockeys and they haven’t got Grade One winners. Why is that? It has got to be luck.
“Of those horses rated between 140 and 150, you will get one in 200 who go on to become a 170 horse, so we have got lucky. These top horses have to come right up through the ranks and I don’t know where the next one is coming from.
“The very best love racing. We have horses here who can run well once but don’t fancy doing it again. The big ones like going to the races and will try their hearts out. Can you train them to do that? I don’t think so.”
He acknowledges that he must be doing something right with the 80-plus thoroughbreds he divides at his two yards in Milborne Port on the Dorset and Somerset border. So much so, that he is not inclined to tinker.
“I’m asked if we are going to extend the gallop? I say, ‘No, leave it as it is’. Are we going to put in a swimming pool? No, definitely not — it’s too cold for bloody swimming in the winter. Let’s just do the same as we’ve been doing as it’s not going too bad.”
The 61-year-old never seems ruffled and delivers his words methodically with a soothing West Country twang. You fancy he could slot easily into the cast of The Archers if invited.
Things “not going too bad” include Cue Card and Native River disputing favouritism for the £575,000 Gold Cup, the highlight of the meeting. “Anybody would be chuffed to have the first and second favourite for the Gold Cup,” he admits. “It’s the biggest race of the season and the ultimate test of any horse. It’s not always the test of the fastest one — it’s the one on the day who doesn’t make mistakes and can grind it out.”
Cue Card, owned by one of Tizzard’s longstanding patrons in 83-year-old Jean Bishop, came tantalisingly close to winning it for him 12 months ago. Sent off at 5-2 after a flawless build-up, the gelding had just nosed to the front under Paddy Brennan when taking a crashing fall three out.
Nobody will know whether Cue Card would have won had he stayed on his feet but the trainer is convinced he would have done. “I didn’t need to watch it more than twice [to know he would have won] but I don’t want to take away from the two horses who fought out the finish,” he said. “The competition is to jump and he didn’t. His fall was of his own making. Thank God, he walked back in. We thought his chance might have gone but he has an equally good chance this year as last. He has been fantastic for us.”
Cue Card won his first race at the Cheltenham Festival almost two months before Native River was born. This will be the last chance that the former has to win the blue riband but this could be the first of many appearances in the race for the latter, who will attempt to become the first seven-year-old to win since Kauto Star a decade ago.
“Native River is lovely young pretender,” Tizzard says of the flashy chestnut. “He has a long, raking stride — longer than any horse we have here. He has shown what a good horse he is this season, winning the Hennessy and Welsh National, and then we saw something different at Newbury recently, where he sprinted clear on the run-in. We can save that spurt for two out and we know he’ll gallop up that hill. He has everything and is in the form of his life.”
Like punters, Tizzard seems unable to split the pair but does suggest Cue Card would be favourite if it were not for the fact that he was an 11-year-old. His affection for him runs deep but he insists he will be shouting equally loud for both.
“There’s no way I would want one to win more than the other,” he says. “All I want is that they both run their races, both come back fit and sound. May the best horse win.”
For the first 5 races every day of the Cheltenham Festival, it’s money back as a free bet if your horse finishes second. Max £20 per race. T&C’s apply. See paddypower.com for full terms