‘I almost called it quits’: young rider proves why you should never give up on your dreams

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  • It may have taken young jump jockey Patrick Wadge, 22, nearly two years and 63 races to ride his first winner under Rules, but the winner of this season’s conditional jockeys’ championship is being richly rewarded for his perseverance and patience.

    The young Scot, based with Lucinda Russell in Kinross, picked up his trophy at Sandown on Saturday (27 April) having topped the 2023/24 leader board with a personal best 37 winners, building a mighty reputation in the process.

    “It was nice to seal the deal,” says Patrick. “It’s been a great season, it was good fun, although there was a month when I didn’t ride any winners – Lucinda’s horses just hit a flat spot. Apart from that, I’ve enjoyed the competition [with the other jockeys] and competing all the way through the year.”

    “Patrick’s early days in the saddle were pathetic!” says mum

    The incredible wave he’s riding now is a remarkable turnaround from those barren early days as a rookie jockey when he came close to calling time on his racing career. Born in Gretna, Patrick says “as soon as he left hospital” he was carried round by his mother while she mucked out on his parents’ livery yard, so “from day one all I can remember is horses and I had a great upbringing around them”.

    However, his mother describes the future champion’s early career in the saddle as “pathetic!”

    “In fact, one day he got off his pony, let it go with all its tack on and said ‘I’m giving up’,” she recalls. “So where it’s come from I’m not quite sure, but we’re really proud of him. He’s worked really hard, he’s just been fantastic, he’s done really well.”

    Patrick, who also hunted, showjumped and followed his father’s footsteps into eventing until he was 16, continues, “I certainly wasn’t always the best rider – I’ve had to work hard at it and I’d be up early in the morning riding out before school and mucking them all out. It was the same at Lucinda’s – I grafted to get what I wanted. I’m working now, but it still feels like my hobby too, so it’s good fun.

    “I was very lucky that both mum and dad taught, and I always think you can link eventing and racing together – they’re very similar. I wasn’t the most confident of riders when I was younger, but I ended up in point-to-pointing through my older brother Cameron and followed him up to Lucinda’s five years ago – I said I’d come up for the summer and never left. I haven’t looked back since.”

    Patrick Wadge: “That season was the be all and end all”

    Patrick Wadge’s brother Cameron also started out as a jockey and is now one of the Lucinda’s assistant trainers. But Patrick endured a tough couple of years as an ambitious young jockey and came close to calling time on his racing career as the frustrations mounted during 20 months and 63 races without riding a winner.

    “It all started off a bit slow and eventually I told myself it was going to be my last year – if I couldn’t get going a bit and ride a few winners, then I may as well call it quits,” says Patrick. “I just felt I wasn’t really going anywhere. It was call it quits or change place, so that season was going to be the be all and end all – it was certainly the turning point, and I’m very happy it turned out the way it did.”

    Having certainly learnt his trade the hard way, finally, at Perth racecourse in April 2022, everything clicked for the determined Scot and he notched up a momentous first winner in a 10-runner novices’ handicap hurdle riding Petite Rhapsody for Lucinda.

    “I don’t think it was necessarily me that kept at it, more the people around me who kept me at it – Brian Harding my jockey coach was very good and always supported me because it was a long time and it did get to the point where I thought it was never going to happen. Then all of a sudden it did, so I have to thank everyone who did support me.

    “I think a lot of people would agree my racing brain wasn’t really the best back then – I could always get horses to jump, but I was still getting used to the racing side of things, where to place a horse and that sort of thing. But Lucinda kept employing me, so I owe her a lot and that pushed me to keep going and thankfully it paid off. The turnaround in just one or two years is bonkers really.”

    Patrick Wadge: “I’ve had great people supporting me”

    As well as Lucinda and Brian, Patrick credits Lucinda’s partner eight-times champion jockey Peter Scudamore and agent Wilson Renwick for guiding him through his breakthrough season last year, when he was entrusted with Lucinda’s top mare and subsequent Grade One winner Apple Away in a Listed race and has gone on to enjoy great run of five successes with his yard favourite Traprain Law, including second in a Grade Three Chase. H&H also caught up with Patrick earlier this year when he enjoyed a remarkable sequence of six winners from seven runners.

    “The backing you have as a young jockey nowadays is unreal – I’ve had great people supporting me,” he acknowledges. “Between Scu, Derek Fox, Brian who has been there since the start, and Lucinda who has been very good to me – she’s very understanding of horses. Her yard has really grown over the past few years, going down south and winning on the big days, and it’s a brilliant place to work and they’re only getting bigger and stronger.

    “I joined Wilson at the start of last year and it really took off from then, he got me some nice rides and he gives me great advice after racing, so if I ever feel like I’ve made a mistake or done something wrong – he’s there, he’s honest and he’ll tell me the truth.

    “Scu is brilliant too – sometimes he’s a wee bit old fashioned in his ways, he keeps it simple, but what he says works. It’s brilliant having those kind of people behind you, helping you to improve.”

    Patrick Wadge lifs the trophy as the new champion conditional jockey.

    Patrick Wadge with his Champion Conditional Jockey trophy at Sandown Park Racecourse. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images).

    “I rode 24 lots that day!”

    Patrick Wadge says working at two-time Grand National-winner Lucinda Russell’s yard is a “busy place to be”.

    “It’s hard work and you have to graft, but she and Scu are some characters,” he says. “Obviously there are days when the stress is high, but they’re great to be around and they get stuck in with us too – Lucinda’s out there at 6am, mucking out, riding out and mingling with the yard. You can talk to them about anything. They’re brilliant people and deserve what they get.

    “I’ll always remember one day it snowed and a lot of people couldn’t get into work, I was unfortunately one of those people who could get into work, and I was at the main yard at Arlary and I was the only lad riding, everyone else was mucking out. That day I rode out 24 lots, so that was a hard day! But that’s the way it works – if you work hard, you knuckle down and you graft, you get stuff in return.”

    Traprain Law: the “great character” Patrick owes it all to

    Talking about the wonderful Traprain Law, a multi-winner at Ayr and Kelso, Patrick describes him as a “great character” and the horse he owes it all to.

    “You always get told, there will be one horse – it might not be your first winner, although you always remember your first winner – who will be your breakthrough horse and then you’ll hit the roll and for me it was Traprain Law,” explains Patrick.

    “I’ve ridden him since day one and watched him develop. The first day he ran I thought he’d be something big and he got beaten by a horse rated 80 and I thought ‘Well that’s me completely wrong’. But we just had to figure him out and work out how he goes – he’s a front runner and he likes soft ground and all sorts of stuff.

    “He’s such a lovely horse and every time I feel like we’ve got the grasp of him, he gives you a bit more, so he’s exciting going into next year, because this year he was very good over fences and didn’t put a foot wrong – he won twice and was placed twice. Everyone likes him on the yard.

    “He’s such a friendly horse – you can stand in his box and he’ll rest his head on your shoulder, he’s a big gentleman. But when you ride him, he’s not one you’d put anyone on because he’s quite hot-headed and he’s all wound up, he’s quite a jazzy horse. But he’s just likeable, really sweet and honest.”

    Future aspirations: “This story just keeps getting better and better”

    Having been third in the championship last season, Patrick Wadge became the third rider from Scotland to claim the prestigious conditional jockeys’ title in 2024, following Lucy Alexander in 2013 and Craig Nichol in 2016. As well as Lucinda Russell, Patrick also rode winners for trainers Jennie Candlish, Iain Jardine, Martin Todhunter and Michael and David Easterby.

    Meanwhile other former conditional jockey title-holders Sean Bowen and Harry Cobden were fighting out this season’s championship race, with the latter being crowned champion jockey for the first time.

    While enjoying some time to reflect on all he’s accomplished in this momentous season, he reveals some trepidation about the season ahead as he takes his next steps in this remarkable journey.

    “Next season is the scariest one, it’s hard to think that probably next year I’ll lose my claim. But ambitions-wise it would just be to busy as I can be,” says Patrick. “It would be lovely to follow on and go and do what Sean Bowen and Harry Cobden have done, but it’s easier said than done.

    “So I’d love to get as much sport as I can, build every year, improve on every season and try to get some nice horses behind me. I’ve got a few with Lucinda that could maybe go on and run in Graded races next season, so it would be nice to win one of them. But another year like this would be great.

    “They say there’s a story behind everything and mine just keeps getting better and better,” says Patrick. “It doesn’t happen for everyone so I feel so lucky it happened for me, it’s a great job to be in. I’ve had the opportunity to ride some amazing horses this past season and horses like Apple Away are ones that come round once in a lifetime.

    “It’s amazing to be here and an unbelievable position to be in.”

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