HARRY COBDEN will always be in the debt of Old Guard, the horse that launched his career.
He was just 17, and having one of his first ever rides, when powering to victory in the fiercely competitive 2015 Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Now the talented teenager harbours hopes of winning next week’s Grade One Stayers’ Hurdle at the National Hunt Festival.
Though an ultra-competitive field is headed by North Yorkshire-trained Sam Spinner, Old Guard followed up wins earlier in the season at Kempton and Newbury by landing Grade Two National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell last month.
And Cobden is relishing the step up to three miles on the seven-year-old, part-owned by television presenter Jeremy Kyle and trained by Paul Nicholls, as the engaging jockey seeks his first win at jump racing’s premier meeting.
“The horse owes the owners nothing having won over £300,000 in prize money now. The Stayers’ Hurdle is over three miles, but he goes well round Cheltenham,” said a nerveless Cobden who was entrusted with the Betfair Chase ride on steeplechasing favourite Cue Card earlier in the campaign.
“The only negative is that he wants better ground and I would not be 100 per cent sure about him if it was heavy. If it is softer or slightly better, that would be ideal for him.
“In his old age he is getting a little bit clever, he only does what he has to and you have to niggle him a touch more to find that extra gear.
“He has won over two and two- and-a-half at Cheltenham. They will go a relentless gallop in the Stayers’ as I am sure Sam Spinner will go off like a rocket.
“I think he will stay as he stayed really well the last day at Fontwell and this is only another half a mile further. I can’t see why he won’t run well.
“Paul Nicholls has got him spot on and he has plenty of confidence back in himself.”
Meanwhile, Ruby Walsh, the winning-most Cheltenham Festival jockey with 56 victories to his name, has declared himself fit for the showcase meeting which begins next Tuesday.
The mercurial Irishman could return to race-riding at Thurles tomorrow following nearly four months on the sidelines with a broken leg suffered when he fell from Let’s Dance at Punchestown on November 18.
“I’m ready for action. I was hoping to go last weekend but the weather put a halt to that,” he declared. “We’ve several meetings rearranged for this week but we’ve still got lying snow and thawing snow, so what’s going to happen is uncertain. Hopefully I’ll be back Thursday or Friday with a bit of luck,”
As for how many rides he will take ahead of the Festival, Walsh, who rides for Ireland’s all conquering trainer Willie Mullins, will weigh up each opportunity and is expected to sit out some races each day.
“It’s risk versus reward. For the last 15-and-a-half weeks the reward for me has always been the Supreme (the meeting’s first race), so it’s how many risks do you take.
“Every time you ride in a race you take a chance,” he said.
“You have to balance up how many risks you are going to take before you get the ultimate reward and for me that has always been to walk out for the Supreme Novices’. I’ve always been careful in the past and it won’t be any different this year. Cheltenham has always been very lucky for me and I always enjoy going there. I probably do put a lot of emphasis on Cheltenham.
“That’s the way I look at it.”