Cobden’s sights on Wetherby milestone

Old Guard ridden by Harry Cobden (red cap) on their way to victory in the Greatwood Hurdle during day three of The Open at Cheltenham racecourse, Cheltenham.
Old Guard ridden by Harry Cobden (red cap) on their way to victory in the Greatwood Hurdle during day three of The Open at Cheltenham racecourse, Cheltenham.
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harry cOBDEN, the season’s leading young jockey, will have double cause for celebration if Sew On Target rolls back the years to win today’s feature race at Wetherby.

On the 39-winner mark for the current campaign, victory will see the talented teenager fulfil his pre-season objective of 40 triumphs and even closer to being crowned champion conditional.

And the in-form 18-year-old hopes conditions will suit Colin Tizzard’s runner in the Handicap Chase provided the West Yorkshire track beats the forecast frost.

When he rode Sew On Target at Taunton, the horse didn’t handle the Somerset track’s Westcountry right-handed configuration before the veteran chaser found the going at Newton Abbot too quick.

Now he hopes it’s third time lucky, though Middleham trainer Micky Hammond’s ever popular Just Cameron – the mount of Henry Brooke – offers significant opposition that Cobden respects.

“He should have a good chance,” said Cobden who was seen to great effect earlier in the season at Wetherby when partnering Cliffs Of Dover to success in the Wensleydale Juvenile Hurdle on day one of the Charlie Hall Chase meeting.

Cliffs Of Dover, who then recorded a follow-up victory at Doncaster under Cobden, hails from the yard of champion trainer Paul Nicholls who has been instrumental in the fresh-faced jockey’s rise to prominence.

Growing up near Wincanton – his parents are beef farmers – Cobden started riding ponies when nine and then began to ride out at Ditcheat, home to Team Nicholls, from the age of 13. Now in his second full season, and just four winners away from losing the weight allowance given to apprentice riders until they win their 75th race, the 5ft 9ins jockey has been one of the most upwardly mobile horsemen in the country since partnering Old Guard to Greatwood Hurdle success at Cheltenham in November 2015, an accomplishment overshadowed by superstar steeplechaser Sprinter Sacre’s emotional comeback win on the same card.

When stable jockey Sam Twiston-Davies was injured towards the end of last year, Cobden was one of the young riders to benefit – most notably with a stirring success in Newcastle’s grade One Fighting Fifth Hurdle on the enigmatic Irving.

And because he’s now accustomed to riding in Graded races where young riders can’t utilise their claim, he hopes the transition will be a smooth one when he starts riding against established jockeys on equal terms.

“Three pounds doesn’t make much difference now,” says Cobden who’s fortunate that he only weighs 9st 7lb.

“I’ve now ridden in many Graded and Listed races.

“My aim was to ride 40 winners this season and it’ll be nice to get there today. It’s a nice pot, £18,500.

“Old Guard got me going, he was only my 10th ride under National Hunt rules, but Irving is the highlight. He just held on. Mr Nicholls has shown a lot of faith in me. He’s very organised. He knows every horse in the yard. He’s on the ball. He won’t be missing too much. He has a lot of young horses coming through. I’ve had my fair share of bollockings – I’m not telling you what for!”

Cobden, tipped by many to be a future champion in his own right, says he’s driven by the competition between the young jockeys attached to the Nicholls yard.

“It keeps us all on our toes,” says Cobden who now has dispensation to ride out one day a week for the Tizzard stable which has been enjoying so much success this year thanks to horses like Thistlecrack, Cue Card, Native River and – hopefully – Sew On Target if the chaser prevails today.

The rider used to hunt with Tizzard – and says the rivalry between the two yards is a friendly one.

“It’s nice to be in both camps...the best of both worlds,” added Cobden.

“The best thing about being a jockey is definitely the thrill of winning. The worst is the travelling, but that doesn’t matter if you’re winning.”