‘She went ballistic’

 

16-year-old Harry Cobden’s first winner left him facing his mother’s wrath.

At 16 years old, Harry Cobden skipped his GCSE English exam to ride his first winner under rules. This choice earned him very different reactions from his parents. Cobden reflects on this incident, his racing career, and more in a major interview with the Racing Post.

Cobden initially struggled with pony races and had threatened to quit the sport after finishing last on his first ride. However, he persisted and first made an impact in 2015. That year, he should have been focusing on his GCSE exams, but he admits he gave up on his schooling. This included missing an English exam to ride El Mondo in a hunter chase at Leicester. When his mother found out about the clash of dates, she was angry, but Cobden’s father’s bet on the race softened the blow.

“She went ballistic,” said the rider, “but my dad had 20 quid on it at 33-1. All round, it would have been bad news if it had got beat, but it’s still a big regret that I didn’t pay any attention for the last six months of my time at school.

“What’s six months, after all? But when you’re 16 it seems like forever. Luckily I turned out all right as a jockey because I don’t know what I’d have done otherwise. I wouldn’t have enough qualifications to work in McDonald’s.”

Despite his lack of focus on school, Cobden’s career as a jockey took off later that year when he won the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham on Old Guard. However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing in those early years.

“I went down to the last upsides Barry Geraghty and beat him, and back then it was the greatest thing that had ever happened to me,” he said. “I’d made it, I was on the scene and everything was easy.

“The following week I rode seven favourites and they all got beat. I soon learned that you never know what’s round the corner.”

 

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‘I’m fortunate to go out on my own terms’ – Tom Scudamore in shock retirement.

After 25 years in the saddle, one of the greatest jump jockeys of all time, Tom Scudamore, has announced his retirement.

The jockey made the decision on Thursday after Ya Know Yaseff, trained by David Pipe, a longtime ally of Scudamore, defeated him at Leicester.

Scudamore, 40, ended his illustrious career after suffering a concussion in a second fall two weeks earlier at Chepstow as a result of the incident. On Saturday, he was scheduled to ride four runners at Ascot.

“I’m going to be 41 in May and after getting that concussion a couple of weeks ago, I now don’t bounce like I did,” he said on Friday. “It was always important to me that I got to make the decision and I’ve been very fortunate that it was in my own hands. I had another fall yesterday and while I’d love to still bounce back like I was 20, that’s not the way it is.

“Very few people get to go out on their own terms, whether it’s through injury or getting the sack, so I’ve been very fortunate. My grandfather had to retire through a bad fall, so it was always clear to me that you wouldn’t always get the choice of where and when you stop riding.

“It was always drummed into us that you’ll know when the moment is and once you’ve made that decision it’s settled. For me, that time came yesterday.”

With 1,499 victories over jumps in Britain and Ireland and 12 on the Flat, Scudamore finished his career as the tenth most prolific jump jockey of all time.

His record included 13 top-level victories, one of which was notable success with the Thistlecrack-trained Scudamore, who carried Scudamore to victory in the 2016 King George as one of five Grade 1 victories the partnership enjoyed. Thistlecrack was trained by Colin Tizzard.

“For 18 months Thistlecrack was the best horse in the country over hurdles or fences”, said Scudamore when speaking to the Racing Post’s YouTube show What A Shout. “There have been so many lovely horses I’ve ridden, too many to name, but Thistlecrack would be the most talented.”

He took over as David Pipe’s stable jockey in 2007 and won a lot of Cheltenham Festival races, winning Dynaste and Western Warhorse in 2014 alone.

He had a career-best 150 winners the following year, including a Champion Bumper victory with Moon Racer and a memorable Grand Annual victory with Next Sensation, trained by his brother Michael.

His tenth festival victory came in 2017 with Un Temps Pour Tout, who won the Ultima twice to give Scudamore a record-breaking fourth victory in the handicap chase.

Scudamore also worked with his father, eight-time champion jockey Peter Scudamore, to win the 2021 Scottish National with Mighty Thunder. This was a home victory for Scudamore’s stepmother, Lucinda Russell.

He said: “I’ve had so many big successes and I’ve been very thankful for all that people have done for me. I rode for the same people when I was claiming 7lb as I did when I retired – that’s what I’m most proud of. People have trusted me and I just hope I’ve done them proud and never let them down.

“I rode a festival winner for my brother, I rode a Scottish National winner for my father and step-mother, and I rode the best part of 1,000 winners for my best mate. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Scudamore finished his career on a high note with a Graded victory on Rock My Way on Trials Day at Cheltenham. In the days to come, he will look into other options besides racing.

“I’ll take stock for a little bit now,” he said. “David [Pipe] has already been asking if I can come and ride out at some point, plus I’ll make an appearance at Richard Hannon’s in the summer. I know nothing else other than riding horses, so I want to continue doing that, just not competitively.

“I’m still an ambassador for Coral and I’d like to do more on the media side of things, but I still want to stay involved in racing. In what capacity remains to be seen, but I’ve got plenty of things going on and I’ll remain as busy as I can.”

 

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The whip row with Paul Struthers.

Next week marks the 11th anniversary of an interesting and successful act of diplomacy that helped put an end to a whip dispute that had been going on for a long time. We need a reenactment, please!

During a conversation with Paul Struthers, the new owner of Moya Sport, the Front Runner was reminded of this fact. He became the Professional Jockeys Association’s brand-new chief executive in February 2012. He had a new opposite number at the BHA who was also new, Paul Bittar, and the two of them met at the beginning of that month to talk about the hot topic at the time.

“It gets forgotten,” Struthers says, “but that whip furore had been going for five months. Paul and I sat down and we pretty much got it cracked.” As he recalls it, the modified version of the whip rules which they agreed upon “lasted ten years without, really, a good deal of complaint, apart from too much naval-gazing in my view from within racing.”

According to historical accounts, the two Pauls removed some of the starch from the rules, which had been tightened in October, in order to make them more practical. Bittar said in a statement, “While well intentioned, and in accordance with initial requests from the jockeys for clarity and consistency … in practice the new rules have repeatedly thrown up examples of no consideration being given to the manner in which the whip is used as well as riders being awarded disproportionate penalties for the offence committed.”

The following is quoted from Struthers: “This change recognises that a grey issue cannot be proportionately and fairly regulated by a black and white rule.” All of this sounds very relevant to the arguments that are currently raging once more as our sport begins to implement a new, more stringent whip policy today.

It also serves as a good illustration of the kind of expertise and experience Struthers brings to his new position. He left the PJA at the end of 2021 and took some time to think about what he wanted to do next. He is now looking for clients, and he hopes that some of them will come from racing.

I hope it goes well because I have often benefited from his insights over the past 20 years. You may recall that before joining the jockeys, he worked at the Jockey Club, the BHB, and then the BHA, including as head of communications.

His website features glowing words from Ryan Moore, a hard man to impress, who says: “Paul led the PJA brilliantly in his ten years in charge. He knew his stuff and what he was doing, anticipated issues, had our best interests at heart and I trusted his judgement and advice completely.”

What does he offer prospective customers? Basically, it’s bringing together my expertise in crisis communications, stakeholder communications, sports integrity, and welfare over the past 15 to 20 years.

“I’m trying to help people improve their processes, help them build better relationships and enhance reputations, through the experience I’ve had. Whether that’s representing athletes in hearings or lobbying or regulatory change or managing significant PR crises or potential crises.

“Not many people have worked for both a player association and a governing body or regulator. There will always be an element of friction between a governing body and the players. You’ll never get away from that.

“As much as I could stamp my feet and wasn’t shy about going public with issues when I was at the PJA, when I felt that was what needed to happen, we fundamentally had a really, really good relationship with the BHA.” He hopes he can show others how such fruitful working relationships can be built and maintained.

“There is friction that could be avoided, often in my view because there’s an inability on the part of governing bodies to apologise for things. And this isn’t unique to sport, you see it a lot in politics and in business.” Approvingly, he cites the recent apology by British Gas’s Chris O’Shea.

“I’d love to get some clients in racing and hopefully will because I still really love the sport. It’s obviously worrying, about field-sizes in jump racing and the prices of favourites at Cheltenham and entries for the Grand National. Equally, I still think there are opportunities for racing and there is a healthy future for it.”

The whip issue will need to be resolved once more if that healthy future is to be achieved. It’s clear that Struthers thinks it’s a mistake to remove stewards’ discretion, which had previously allowed them to disregard a jockey’s use of the whip in certain situations. For instance, in a jump race, if the whip was used to correct a horse that was running down an obstacle or after a jumping error, it might not be included in the calculations.

“Now all that discretion’s gone. That is going to be really, really hard because it was hard to deal with before.

“When I took over at the PJA in 2012, discretion had been removed between October and February and jockeys did not get used to it. It was a fixed limit until Paul and I agreed to bring in some discretion, which was never as much as I thought it should have been but it was welcome all the same.

“They will undoubtedly get used to it because jockeys are a remarkable group of men and women, who are so adaptable to change and cope so well with pressure, but it is going to be very difficult. It will make riding hard, thinking about what they are having to do.

“I would take very short odds on this happening, that during Cheltenham there will be a mini cottage industry on social media of people counting how many times jockeys used the whip in every race. There will be jockeys who are so petrified of getting a significant ban that they may only use the whip four or five times and leave a couple of uses up their sleeve, lose by a narrow margin and get criticised for it, either in public or in private by connections.

“The next two to four weeks are going to be a real test. I think it will be a period of pain, particularly for jockeys. The doubling of penalties in Class 1 and 2 races is huge. You only have to go two over at Cheltenham and you’re looking at a 14-day ban.

“For the life of me, I can’t see how that is remotely proportionate. But too many people in racing convinced themselves it [a whip rule breach] was effectively jockeys cheating and getting rewarded for it.”

 

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