THREE generations of the Scudamore family remain synonymous with National Hunt racing. Now a new book sheds new light on their success and values. Tom Richmond reports.
TO NATIONAL Hunt aficionados, the Scudamore family are heroes who need little introduction because of the seven decades of continuity – and sportsmanship – that they continue to give to racing.
Michael, the late grandfather and patriarch who was a pioneer and won the sport’s two iconic races – the Grand National with Oxo and Cheltenham Gold Cup aboard Linwell – despite being born with high arches in his feet that made walking painful.
Peter, the eight-times champion jockey, and one of the most driven men in racing, who set an all-time number of winners – 1,678 in total – before hanging up his riding boots a quarter of a century ago.
And Tom, riding better than ever, is winning high-profile races which eluded both his grandfather – and father – thanks to his association with the top class Thistlecrack, a modern great, and also horses trained by his younger brother Michael junior.
Rooted in farming, and the countryside, the family have been the one constant in steeplechasing from the day that Scudamore senior won his first race when Wild Honey won at Chepstow in 1950.
Yet, while details of this success are scarce, the horse was, in fact, trained by the winning jockey’s father Geoffrey whose wartime deeds have come to epitomise the family and shine through in their new collaboration – The Scudamores: Three of a Kind – which chart their life in racing.
Using anecdotes recorded by Michael senior with family friend Chris Haslam before his death in 2014, and contemporary interviews with his son and grandson, this extraordinary story spanning three generations has been put together by Chris Cook whose father, Robin, was a senior Cabinet minister and racing enthusiast (and not necessarily in that order).
And, as a new National Hunt season in Yorkshire starts at Wetherby’s curtain-raising meeting today, this county is – in many respects – where the family’s legacy begins. After quitting farming, a protected industry during the war, Geoffrey Scudamore joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and took part in his first bombing mission, as a wireless operator, when a Halifax plane flew out of RAF Lissett south of Bridlington on July 9, 1943, heading for Gelsenkirchen.
Yet, on its return from Germany, it was hit and crash-landed at Mont Rigi in Nazi-occupied Belgium, and the crew captured as prisoners of war for two years. Fortunate to survive because their pilot kept control of the plane and deliberately hit the top of trees to slow its descent, the bloodied Scudamore sacrificed his own chances of making an escape to freedom in order to help pull stricken colleagues clear of the wreckage.
“Those who were conscious showed courage and fortitude of the first order, particularly in the case of Sgt Scudamore who received facial injuries and lost a lot of blood,” wrote Flight Lieutenant John Bridger in a letter to relatives. He went on to explain that Geoffrey had acted “in a way that made me proud to be a fellow Englishman”.
It prompted Michael Scudamore, a week short of his 11th birthday at the time on the family’s Herefordshire farm, to reminisce: “I often wonder what would have happened if he’d never come back and Mother would have been left with two children.
“He was a hard man, a tough man, and I always remember he once said to me ‘The most frightened I was, we were lost in the fog and all the bloody works had gone, couldn’t get it back, navigation and so on’. And he said ‘I prayed to God, hard, and he looked after me’. And he got back. That was a training mission.”
It’s why Flt Lt Bridger’s letter remains so special to Peter Scudamore, more so after he was riding in New Zealand and a stranger knocked on the weighing room door. It was his grandfather’s navigator. “We talk about bravery today – but it’s absolutely nothing to what they did,” he tells The Yorkshire Post. “That letter is my proudest possession of any Scudamore.
“When that man says my grandfather made him ‘proud to be an Englishman’, that’s bravery and it’s important these stories are told. My grandfather was from a generation who spoke very little about the war. It shows how lucky we all are.”
Though the outbreak of war denied Geoffrey Scudamore the chance to ride in the Grand National, his quietly- spoken son Michael did win the world’s greatest steeplechase in 1959, the last before the race was televised, on Oxo, and his grandson Peter, and his partner Lucinda Russell, teamed up to win last year’s race with One For Arthur who came from last to first.
The National is a recurring theme in an evocative book which reads like a conversation, over a pint, between three family members – all devoted to each other – who reminisce about racing from Michael Scudamore’s cavalier era when jockeys rode without helmets and would have alcoholic fortification before races, to his grandson Tom, so modest about his successes, being one of the first to wear a gum shield to lessen the risk of concussion in safety-first times.
Described as a “golden thread” through racing by journalist Brough Scott, and a “really, good honest family that do the very best they can, all the time” by riding legend John Francome, it’s why Peter Scudamore, 60, wore his late father’s blue tie when One For Arthur won the 2017 National. “Honesty, courage, not complaining,” he said when asked to describe what the family name meant to him.
“I remember riding as an amateur and it really didn’t matter,” he said. “It’s totally different when you’re a professional. I was told that people can judge you if you’re being paid. We never compared ourselves but I felt he had a legacy that people recognised and respected. My thing was to try to be more professional and try to be more driven. That’s what I try to pass on: the need to be professional.”
Yet, while this has helped Tom Scudamore, now 36, more than hold his own against Sir AP McCoy and Richard Johnson, the two winning-most jump jockeys in history, he remains in awe of his grandfather who gave up riding after losing an eye. He remembers a gentle man – very kind – but “physically tough, strong and fearless”. When Scudamore junior landed the 2014 Arkle Trophy on Western Warhorse, a horse with just a chase win at Doncaster to his name, his grandfather, by then in his final fight with cancer, reminded him that he had won the corresponding race 50 years earlier on Greektown who was making his debut over steeplechase fences.
And on the two occasions he has won over the Grand National fences, he sensed “Grandad talking to me all the way up the Aintree run in” as Poole Master, and then Vieux Lion Rouge, won. “Evenings and evenings, days and days, talking to him about those things,” he said. “A lot of other people have other things to talk about, but we’re pretty one-dimensional,” he reflects. “I think we’re all very proud of what each other’s done, but then we respect the difference in the generations. I know that if Grandad was around with my generation, he’d compete because he’d improve himself, in the same way as Dad would do.”
And, on what it means to be a Scudamore today, he adds: “I am extremely proud of all my relatives. You don’t want to embarrass what they have done in the past. Not in terms of their achievements, but the people they are.”
The Scudamores: Three of a Kind is published by the Racing Post, price £25.
Grandest win for three generations
FOR Peter Scudamore, the 2015 Grand Annual Chase at the Cheltenham Festival remains the pinnacle for his family. Why? The legendary Sir AP McCoy’s last ever ride at the meeting, it was won by the tearaway Next Sensation ridden by his son Tom and trained by the jockey’s younger brother Michael.
It was also very poignant because it was the first Cheltenham since the death of their much missed grandfather Michael who won Britain’s oldest jumps race, first held in 1847, on Barberyn in 1961.
Their father Peter, who won the 1989 renewal on Pukka Major, thought Next Sensation had fallen early on. He describes the win as “his greatest moment in racing” because “without the history of the sport, we’re nothing anyway”.