Yet he was proud to be in the “right place at the right time” when a spare ride became available on Thistlecrack, who was retired this week.
The same applies to Cloth Cap, who will complete his Randox Grand National preparations – he is ante-post favourite for the big race – in today’s Premier Chase at Kelso against the likes of Yorkshire’s Definitly Red.
Owned by Trevor Hemmings and trained by Jonjo O’Neill, it was Scudamore’s fortune that he was available last November to ride Cloth Cap to such a heartwarming success in Newbury’s Ladbrokes Trophy.
This victory, Scudamore’s third in this prestigious handicap after Madison Du Berlais and Sizing Tennessee, prompted connections to stick to a winning partnership today with a potential view to next month’s National. “It’s very exciting and I’m happy to be asked to ride him again,” says the 38-year-old.
“It was a brilliant performance at Newbury and we have a couple of pounds to find at the weights, but it’s a great race for him before Aintree. It’s the same as any race. You’re hoping for a good run, be competitive – and win. Jonjo is a master trainer and, as the saying goes, ‘if he’s happy, I’m happy’.”
Scudamore, the ninth most successful National Hunt jockey in history, was pleased to get the Newbury call-up.
“Richie McLernon was claimed to ride Regal Encore and Jonjo O’Neill couldn’t do the weight,” he explained. “I’ve always been able to do 10 stone and, after the third fence, I knew that I was in for a great ride. I knew he wasn’t going to stop and someone would have to do something special to get past us. Perhaps the biggest compliment you can pay to Cloth Cap is that he was a very straightforward ride in such a competitive race like that.”
As much as anything, Scudamore, stable jockey to David Pipe, was very proud to win such a big race for men like Hemmings and O’Neill senior who he continues to hold in the highest regard. He grew up hearing stories from his father Peter, the multiple champion jockey, about the great bravery, and daring, of O’Neill.
“Jonjo broke his leg when Dad was going so they never battled for the championship, but everyone had an awful lot of respect for him as a man and his achievements in racing, and outside, stand out,” says Scudamore. “A lot gets talked about, Jonjo does it. His deeds come without asterisks.”
Like many, Scudamore is finding the build-up to a Cheltenham Festival in lockdown to be a surreal one. His partner is due to give birth imminently whilst his daughter Margot amused many by writing to Boris Johnson to appeal for the reopening of schools to be delayed until after jump racing’s flagship fixture. She helps to ride out Kingswell Theatre, trained by Scudamore’s brother Michael, who is on course for the Cross Country Chase. In her letter, she said her dad “is reaching the end of his career”.
Not so, says Scudamore, who hopes any spare rides at Cheltenham might prove to be as good as Thistlecrack, who was retired this week by trainer Colin Tizzard, and owners John and Heather Snook, after a career that yielded five Grade Ones.
It began at Aintree in April 2015; continued with a seemingly effortless Stayers’ Hurdle win at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival and saw Thistlecrack become the first novice to win Kempton’s King George VI Chase before niggling injuries took their toll.
His agent, Dave Roberts – who masterminded Sir AP McCoy’s career – says the original spare ride at Aintree was the best in his career since he secured the 1996 Grand National-winning ride on Rough Quest for Mick Fitzgerald.
“Aidan Coleman had been asked to ride him, as he had ridden him before, but he chose to take a ride for Emma Lavelle,” explained Scudamore. “There were a lot of runners. I had ridden a lot for Colin and Joe (trainer’s son and assistant) and I was in the right place at the right time. Everyone takes the mickey out of Aidan, but he did get Paisley Park (2019 Stayers’ Hurdle winner) out of it through the Lavelle link-up.
“For a horse with so much power, Thistlecrack was so gentle to ride. So light on his feet. When he was at his prime for 18 months, he was impossible to beat. He was so brittle that it was staggering that he made it to the racecourse. Even in his more recent runs, he was very competitive. A credit to the whole team. The privilige was all mine.”
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