HARRY COBDEN was just another promising jockey when he rode Old Guard to Greatwood Hurdle success at Cheltenham’s prestigious ‘Open’ meeting four years ago.
Now the fresh-faced 21-year-old is well-established as stable jockey to champion trainer Paul Nicholls and relishing the chance to partner Cyrname against the all-conquering Altior at Ascot next weekend.
The most eagerly-anticipated race of the 2019-20 National Hunt season to date, it will see the two highest-rated chasers in training meet in the Christy 1965 Chase over two miles and five furlongs.
That trip will pose no problem to Cobden and Cyrname – brilliant winners of the Grade One Ascot Chase over the same course and distance in February – but Nicky Henderson’s Altior, still unbeaten over fences, is stepping up in trip after winning two Queen Mother Champion Chases.
It promises to be a race for the ages – especially if Cobden’s charge adopts familiar front-running tactics.
“Cyrname is in great form, I rode him the other morning, I don’t ride him as well as the lad who rides him out every morning though, he lights up when I get on him!” said Cobden.
“He felt fantastic, I schooled him and he jumped great. He’s had his wind done so hopefully we’ve got every base covered. Scott Marshall rides him every day and he has been very pleased with him and it’s just really exciting to look forward to.
“He loves Ascot, he jumps very well – he is a strong-travelling horse and he gets them off the bridle because he’s got so much speed.
“Obviously Altior is a class horse in his own right and will probably travel well behind me, so it will be an interesting race but one I’m looking forward to.
“The race will probably begin in earnest when we turn into the straight and I’m just praying I’ve got a bit left under the bonnet! It will be tricky to know how fast to go and obviously Cyrname doesn’t hang about, so hopefully we don’t go too quick early and I can save a bit for the finish.”
This week Cobden was confirmed as an ambassador to Great British Racing – testament to the rider’s rapid rise through the ranks and his rapport with racing spectators. Unlike previous stable jockeys to Nicholls, there is a certain unflappability to Cobden that has certainly helped him to gain the confidence of the trainer and high-profile owners who rank amongst the most demanding in racing.
It also helps that the jockey has outside interests – he is an enthusiastic farmer – and does not spend every hour fretting about horse racing (the pressure of riding for Nicholls became too all-consuming for the equally talented Sam Twiston-Davies who was stable jockey before Cobden).
He is also grateful to be in peak condition after breaking his neck in a fall at Market Rasen in the summer of 2018 – and marked his comeback by winning last year’s King George VI Chase at Kempton on Clan Des Obeax in the colours of former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and longstanding owner Ged Mason.
Second at Down Royal earlier this month, Clan Des Obeaux is on track for next month’s King George.
“I was delighted with Clan at Down Royal, he travelled and jumped very well and we were probably beaten by a fitter horse (Road To Respect) on the day but one who is also no slouch and is good at Down Royal,” said Cobden.
“He’ll go straight to the King George now with a huge chance. We know he acts round there, he’s very good right-handed and he should put up a very bold show.”
Nicholls and Cobden have started the season in fine form, encapsulated with a 10th win for the yard in the Badger Beers Silver Trophy at Wincanton on Saturday.
Like Clan Des Obeaux, the winner, Give Me A Copper, is part-owned by the aforementioned Ferguson who was an animated spectator at the Somerset track as the horse cleared the last. The Grand National is now the target.
“A few of the early ones had been needing a run, but Saturday was good, nearly all the horses ran well and it was great that Give Me A Copper won the big race,” added Cobden.
“Looking forward the horses are in good spirits, the morale in the yard is good and we’re looking forward to the rest of the year. It was great to win a big race for Sir Alex, a legend in his own right, and Ged Mason is a huge supporter of mine, he sponsors me, so it was fantastic for those boys.”
Cobden and Nicholls will be aiming for more success at Cheltenham this weekend – weather permitting.
“We’ve got Getaway Trump who should improve massively for his first run in the Arkle Trial, Politologue in the Shloer Chase, Quel Destin in the Greatwood and a nice horse called Ecco in the Grade Two novice hurdle,” added the rider.
“These are the days you want as a jockey, good rides in big races.”