THERE was a time when Peter Scudamore, the most successful jump jockey in history when he retired 20 years ago, was worried whether his sons Tom and Michael would make a success of their careers in racing as a jockey and a trainer respectively.
Now the tables are reversed. After another season to remember thanks to horses like Monbeg Dude, the ante-post favourite for the Crabbie’s Grand National, it is Scudamore’s sons who are looking to their father to retain family honour in today’s Grade Two totepool Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby.
The pressure is on. As assistant and partner to the successful Scottish trainer Lucinda Russell, he is responsible for the leading contender Green Flag in a three-mile race won 12 months ago by Scudamore’s son Tom on the David Pipe-trained Goulanes.
The form is solid – Green Flag, which holds an eyecatching entry in the Cheltenham Festival’s RSA Chase, was a close second to Yorkshire-born trainer Martin Keighley’s Annacotty in the Grade One Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
However, the opposition is formidable – Coverholder would provide High Eldwick trainer Sue Smith with a morale-boosting win at the end of a traumatic week that saw the retirement of last year’s Grand National winner Auroras Encore with a career-ending leg injury while AP McCoy, the soon-to-be 19-times champion jockey, has opted to travel to West Yorkshire to ride Jonjo O’Neill’s Shuthefrontdoor for owner JP McManus.
Like today’s National Hunt cards at Sandown and Ffos Las, Wetherby will have to pass an early inspection at 8am following heavy rain yesterday – the last update reported the ground to be ‘soft, heavy in places’.
“This is another step up – this is a very good race,” Scudamore senior told the Yorkshire Post.
“We are going there with hope rather than expectation. I think the Kempton form has stacked up well with Annacotty running so well at Cheltenham last weekend.
“Wetherby will suit this horse better than Kempton – the obstacles are, in my opinion, bigger and his jumping is his best attribute.
“Lucinda has always thought that this is one of the best horses she’s ever had. He’s a point-to-point horse who won his Bumper at Hexham very well in April 2012.
“We have always felt, like all National Hunt people, that he will be even better when he jumps fences and his form so far – three wins and a second over the larger obstacles – appears to confirm this.
“Our whole purpose is to bring more young horses like him through, and this is the first of a new generation of ex-point-to-pointers after Brindisi Breeze who won the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham two years ago before his career, and that of jockey Campbell Gillies, came to such a tragic end.”
As a jockey, Scudamore – whose father Michael won a Grand National on Oxo – was a great accumulator of winners.
He won 1,678 races before retiring in 1993 and becoming assistant trainer to Nigel Twiston-Davies – their partnership included victory in the 2002 National with Bindaree – before teaming up with Kinross-based Russell.
However, the eight-times champion jockey, now 55, has never lost his legendary competitive instincts.
He once said: “If I had a poor day I might kick the cat when I got home, but I was so stupid when I got up I still believed I was good.”
As he oversaw his horses in the yard yesterday, Scudamore said: “There’s nothing like the adrenaline rush of riding a winner, but training a winner can be more satisfying. It’s the relief.
“As a jockey, if your horse was lame, you just got on another one. As a trainer, you’ve got to bandage the leg, call the vet, speak to the owner, withdraw entries, and so it goes on. It makes any winner more satisfying – people don’t see what goes on in the background.”
He never expected to see a better jockey than his great rival John Francome, but now stands in awe of McCoy who recently rode his 4,000th career winner.
“I didn’t think it was humanly possible to do what he’s done,” he said.
Yet perhaps the best insight into Scudamore’s character came at Wetherby last November when he was saddling runners.
Binoculars in hand, he made a dash to the bookmakers so he could watch the Paddy Power Gold Cup where his partner’s Tap Night was a leading contender alongside his son Tom on Ballynagour.
Scudamore’s face could not have been more intense, it was the epitome of tunnel vision. His knees almost buckled as the horses jumped each fence.
“You’ll never change him,” said Tom, who produced one of his best rides last weekend aboard The Giant Bolster in Cheltenham’s Gold Cup trial.
Even his father, a man who has always been hard to please, was impressed. He is never more than a phone call away and his expertise was instrumental in Monbeg Dude winning last season’s Welsh National for, among others, Otley-born Mike Tindall before being sent to the rugby international’s wife Zara for jumping tuition.
“There was a time when I worried about them, but Thomas is having one of his best ever seasons and Monbeg Dude is showing what Michael can do. I think I’m now more worried about whether I can keep up with them,” added Scudamore senior.