sir Peter O’Sullevan has led the tributes to Grand National and Gold Cup-winning jockey Michael Scudamore, the 81-year-old patriarch of a great racing dynasty who has died, just three days after his wife Mary passed away.
“He was the leader of a special clan. A no-nonsense and straight-forward guy with far more intellect than he was credited for. A proper man,” said the commentator, 96, as National Hunt racing paid its respects to one of the sport’s great characters.
The son of a point-to-point trainer, and contemporary of the legendary Terry Biddlecombe, who died in January, he rode 496 winners from 1950 until a career-ending fall at Wolverhampton 16 years later which left him almost blind in his left eye.
This was an era when the safety of jockeys was at its most rudimentary – Scudamore would think nothing of riding in a 40-runner novice chase when his helmet would hit the turf before he did because it had no straps.
Despite the constant risk of injury, he held the honour of riding in 16 consecutive Grand Nationals – a record that stood until 2012 – and conquered Aintree when Oxo prevailed in 1959 after a sustained battle from Becher’s Brook with Wyndburgh, whose jockey Tim Brookshaw was inconvenienced by a broken stirrup.
Alluding to the merciless size of the obstacles in this era, Scudamore observed in his West Country burr: “I never hurt myself or a horse. I’m rather proud of that and that’s when the fences were really big.”
Other big race successes included the 1956 King George VI Chase on Rose Park, the following year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup on Linwell and a Welsh National on Creeola II.
Following his retirement from the saddle, Scudamore took out a trainer’s licence in Herefordshire and one of his biggest wins came with Bruslee in the Mackeson Gold Cup at Cheltenham in 1974.
He set standards of horsemanship, and a work ethic, which endure to this day thanks to his son Peter, the eight-times champion jockey and assistant trainer at his partner Lucinda Russell’s yard.
“They were just a different generation of toughness and, without him and the other people of his era, National Hunt racing wouldn’t be held in the regard that it is today and I’d never want to forget the legacy they left us,” said Scudamore.
“People come up to me and say ‘I’ve watched many jockeys and he was the best one I’ve ever seen over a fence’, which makes you immensely proud. He was the toughest man I’ve ever met.”
Referring to his mother Mary’s death last Friday, he added: “She couldn’t have survived without him and from that point of view it was a blessing.”
In his latter years, the Scudamores drew immense pleasure from the successes of their grandsons Michael junior and Tom.
When Michael trained rugby player Mike Tindall’s Monbeg Dude to Welsh National success two years ago he was regaled with tales about Creeola II’s win in 1957.
It was the same when his brother Tom galvanised Western Warhorse to win this year’s Racing Post Arkle Trophy in the final stride. This was a quirky horse having just its second run over fences, and the ride was the source of immense personal satisfaction to the jockey until he learned that his grandfather had won the corresponding race on steeplechasing debutant Greektown in 1964.
A jockey who worshipped his grandfather, the first question that he asked after his Cheltenham Festival successes on Salut Flo in 2012 – and then Western Warhorse, Dynaste and Ballnagour this March – was whether ‘Grandad’ had watched the race.
“He was the original and the best. I wish I was half the jockey and most importantly half the man. Respected and loved by all who knew him. ‘Keep a leg either side and keep on kicking’ Michael Scudamore RIP,” he tweeted.
The rider’s great friend Sam Twiston-Davies said: “Thoughts firmly with the Scudamore family.
“Lucky to have spent time with all the Scus when I was a kid. RIP Michael Scu senior. #R.I.P.”
Hambleton trainer Kevin Ryan’s Dante and French Derby winner The Grey Gatsby is on course for a return trip across the Channel for Saturday’s Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp.
Sprint king Robert Cowell has his eyes on a big prize over a longer distance on Saturday as he targets Zain Eagle at the John Smith’s Cup at York.
Jockey Bryan Cooper, who suffered multiple leg injuries in a horrid fall at the Cheltenham Festival, hopes to resume riding out next month with a view to returning to competitive action in September.