MICHAEL SCUDAMORE only has to think of his late grandfather, one of the great gentlemen of racing, to put the ups and downs of racehorse training into perspective.
Everyday exasperations are nothing compared to the era when his idol, Michael senior, was winning Gold Cups and Grand Nationals in an era when jockeys rode with strapless cork helmets and did not have the luxury of body protectors when crashing into concrete railings.
Yet, as well as inheriting one of the most famous names in jump racing, it is Scudamore’s great fortune that he also possesses the quiet determination, and modesty, that were the hallmarks of his grandfather who died last summer.
“Just because he is not here, he’s still the driving factor behind everything that we do,” revealed Scudamore junior ahead of today’s Wetherby meeting when he saddles novice chase debutant Line D’Aois. “When we talk about racing, or pick each other’s brains, we say ‘what would Grandad have said’. He’s still with us in spirit.”
It explains why Scudamore, 30, did not get downhearted when No Through Road and luckless jockey Conor O’Farrell fell at the 18th, and final, fence at Wetherby on Boxing Day with the handicap chase at their mercy.
In a twist of fate, the beneficiary was the very aptly-named Itstimeforapint who just happened to be trained by Scudamore’s father Peter, the multiple champion jockey and one of the most competitive men in racing, and his partner Lucinda Russell.
“I can’t remember who rang whom, but Dad’s first words were ‘I’m sorry’,” said Scudamore whose elder brother Tom is now respected as one of Britain’s best jump jockeys.
Is his father mellowing? There’s a pause and Scudamore replies with a chuckle: “Possibly. Slowly. Dad was very happy but a change of fortune would go down well. It was a little bit frustrating – Fromthetop was beaten 25 minutes earlier by a head at Huntingdon and then No Through Road’s mishap.
“You try to take the positives. The fact that he ran well and, hopefully, he is still on the upgrade. If you don’t take the positives, this job will drive you mad.
“No Through Road will have a few entries towards the end of the month. He has gone up 5lb for falling at the last which is a little bit harsh, so we’re toying with the idea of going back to hurdles.
“You are a fraction away from having two winners on the day...that’s the frustrating part. It is harder when you have a smaller string, you can’t send five runners out the next day.
“We’ve probably only had a handful of runners since our last win (No Through Road at Southwell on November 10). It looks a long time, and it feels like it, but the horses are running well.”
In talking about perspective and context, Scudamore is too modest to admit that he is operating at a career-best strike-rate of 19 per cent this season thanks to nine winners from 48 runners.
The aforementioned No Through Road was on the brink of a fifth win in two months before his fall, testament to the Scudamore team’s ability to get the best out of their horses and place them in winnable races.
A dual purpose yard near Ross-on-Wye, Scudamore was a gifted rugby player who learned to ride – he jokes that it makes it easier for him to criticise his brother on occasion – before joining the training ranks when his grandfather took a back seat role.
It has never been easy. It took time, and much heartache, to work out the best way of helping their small number of horses to maintain optimum fitness while trying to run a business and attract new owners during a prolonged economic downturn.
It is why Scudamore and his girlfriend Tess Champion are riding out on the gallops each morning with their two full-time members of staff. Theirs is very much a hands-on operation and they believe that this is the best way of knowing the wellbeing of their string.
Mucking out stables is about the only job that Scudamore does not do. He undertook a 312-mile round-trip yesterday between his yard on the Welsh borders and Doncaster where Corner Creek was seventh in the maiden hurdle.
He was then heading back to Yorkshire at daybreak today to saddle Line D’Aois in a competitive four-runner novice chase headed by AP McCoy’s mount Red Devil Boy. “It is his first time over fences since his point-to-point days, but he is a great big bull of a horse,” said the trainer. “This is what his life will be all about.”
And then are Next Sensation and Monbeg Dude, the two horses which are helping to take Scudamore’s career – and reputation – to a new level.
First Next Sensation. The former Doncaster winner has been given an eyecatching entry in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
“It is very much speculative,” said the trainer. “The two favourites, Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy, have got to prove themselves again because of injury. From racing’s point of view, I hope they come back and are as good as they have shown in the past, racing needs its superstars, but there are question marks about both of them.”
Next Monbeg Dude, the horse famously purchased by Otley-born rugby player Mike Tindall when slightly the worse for drink and whose jumping has been transformed by the Yorkshireman’s wife Zara Phillips, one of the world’s top equestrian riders (and the Queen’s grand-daughter).
This is the horse which gave Scudamore the biggest win of his training career when coming from last to first, under a nerveless Paul Carberry, to win the Welsh National at Chepstow in January 2013 before finishing a very creditable seventh in last year’s Crabbie’s Grand National.
Fourth in the Welsh National this Christmas, despite carrying 21lb more than in his victory run, connections were delighted and Aintree remains on the agenda.
“Considering his weight, he ran a cracker,” said Scudamore who has a great affinity with Tindall and fellow co-owners James Simpson-Daniel and Nicky Robinson. They, too, are both rugby internationals.
“I had a chat with the boys after the race and they think he deserves another crack. He could run in Haydock’s National trial next month or a veterans’ race at Newbury. Last year, Zara was very hands-on with his jumping. Mike is very busy with his commitments but James and Nicky are often on the phone and everyone has their say.”
Aintree is also synonymous with the Scudamore dynasty after Michael senior’s famous win in 1959 aboard Oxo.
Yet, despite numerous attempts to conquer Aintree in the intervening 55 years, the world’s greatest steeplechase has eluded the Scudamores. As Monbeg Dude’s trainer says, the record needs to be set straight to honour a horseman who set such a fine example to his family – and racing – with his bravery and sportsmanship.
Peter and Tom on hand to advise Michael
THERE is no shortage of advice available to Michael Scudamore as he forges his own career in racing, not least from his father Peter and brother Tom. “They are always very willing to lend a hand and say what they think,” says the trainer. “Sometimes it is listened to, other times it is not.
“Tom has done so well, especially in the last two or three years and looks very comfortable in his role as David Pipe’s stable jockey. I think he has grown as a rider and deserves all the success that he is getting. One challenge was that young riders were always being compared to AP McCoy, and that brings its own pressure.
“Big winners have helped and he now has a number of top class horses that he can ride. That confidence has allowed him to become his own person and come out of AP’s shadow.”
Scudamore cites last season’s Arkle Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival when his brother galvanised a miraculous winning run out of Western Warhorse who pipped the hot favourite Champagne Fever on the line.
While the analysis revolved around the defeat of Ruby Walsh’s mount, Scudamore says his sibling should have received more credit. “In the last two or three years, he has been riding as well as anyone.”