He’s in the top-10 jump jockeys of all time but the Grand National has so far eluded Tom Scudamore – could teaming up with this year’s favourite, Cloth Cap, change that, asks Jennifer Donald
THE Grand National is the greatest race and it’s a thrill, an honour and a privilege to be able to ride in it,” enthuses Tom Scudamore, who is booked to ride this year’s favourite, Cloth Cap, for his 19th attempt in the race.
“Even to have done it so many times as I have, you never take it for granted.”
Aintree is famous for its fairy tales – from Bob Champion and Aldaniti to Red Rum and Foinavon – and Tom hails from a family whose name is intertwined with the race’s history. He is the third generation of Scudamores to have ridden in the National. His grandfather Michael Scudamore lined up 16 times, winning it in 1959 on Oxo, while his father Peter Scudamore was eight-time champion jockey but his closest finish in the National was third on Corbiere in 1985.
Tom, too, has yet to experience that winning feeling, but the 38-year-old is playing down the enormity of having perhaps his greatest ever chance to lay to rest the six decade-long Scudamore hoodoo.
”It’s very exciting and a privileged position to be in, but I’ve dealt with enough things and seen enough in my career not to get carried away yet,” he says modestly. “My first memories of Aintree are of my father competing, but I was always very aware and proud of what Grandad had achieved, so the race has long been a huge part of my household,” recalls Tom, whose younger brother Michael trained Monbeg Dude to finish third in the race in 2015.
“Dad was assistant trainer to Nigel Twiston-Davies while I was growing up and he bought Earth Summit as a young horse along with my grandfather, so winning the Grand National in 1998 was just electric.
“Although neither I nor my father have been able to win, I’m confident that will change.”
Tom made his debut in the race in 2001 as an amateur on the Martin Pipe-trained Northern Star; he is now stable jockey to the trainer’s son David.
“Lining up that first time, the enormity of it all did hit me,” remembers Tom. “He was a wonderful little horse, however unfortunately we parted company at Becher’s Brook, but I remember being very excited and it was a great thrill.”
Tom has since enjoyed many good spins over the famous Aintree fences, with his best result coming in 2017 on the sixth-placed perennial contender Vieux Lion Rouge in a race won by his father’s training partner Lucinda Russell with One For Arthur.
“We were in contention coming back on to the racecourse proper so that was a great thrill – but I’m hoping that thrill will last a bit longer this time,” he says.
TOM only teamed up with the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Cloth Cap in November, coming in for the catch ride in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury, which they won with notable ease.
“I was very fortunate really,” he explains. “Richie McLernon had been riding Cloth Cap but was claimed to ride another horse, Regal Encore, on whom he’s won plenty of times. “Jonjo Junior rides the majority of his father’s horses but he couldn’t do the weight – he only had 10 stone – so I came in for the ride.”
Jonjo himself remained luckless in the Grand National during a glittering career in the saddle, but trained the 2010 winner Don’t Push It, giving AP McCoy his only winner in the race.
“Anything Jonjo says is worth listening to, and going into the race at Newbury, he told me Cloth Cap jumps and stays, which his races before had proved including third in the Scottish National [in 2019],” says Tom, who kept the ride for Cloth Cap’s next outing over fences, a listed race at Kelso in March, which they won equally comfortably.
Cloth Cap suddenly looked a very classy contender for Aintree and very nicely weighted with just 10st 5lb to carry, so unsurprisingly the bookies slashed his odds.
“I thought he had a bit of a chance but a performance like that gives everyone a lot of confidence for the big race,” says Tom. “He’s very straightforward – he doesn’t seem to be fazed by many things, he has run in big fields, and touch wood he seems to jump and stay. He enjoys his racing and he’s a happy horse. He’s a real pleasure to ride.”
The nine-year-old Cloth Cap will run in the famous green, yellow and white colours of owner Trevor Hemmings, who will be bidding for a record fourth win, having lifted the Grand National silverware with Hedgehunter (2005), Ballabriggs (2011) and most recently Many Clouds in 2015.
“If you can’t beat them, join them,” said Tom about teaming up with two legends of the race. “What would it mean to win? All the clichés – it’s a childhood dream and everybody who is ever involved in racing wants to win the Grand National. I’m no different,” says Tom. “It would be a culmination of many things, but you can talk about it as long as you want – you still have to go and do it!
“So I’m not really daring to dream; there’s plenty of racing between now and then. Jonjo knows exactly what he’s doing so I’ll leave it to him and be there when he tells me what he wants to do.”
IN January, the Devon-based jockey rode his 1,353rd winner, pushing him up to become the ninth most successful jockey of all time. He continues to edge toward his father’s career total of nearly 1,700 winners.
Despite Tom’s daughter Margot claiming her dad was “reaching the end of his career” in an enterprising letter to Boris Johnson asking to be allowed to watch last month’s Cheltenham Festival from school, Tom has no intention to hang up his boots any time soon.
“David Pipe has a lot of very exciting young horses and my brother Michael’s been having a tremendous season so it’s a very exciting time,” says Tom, who also welcomed a new baby, Ava Grace, with partner Sarah on the eve of the Cheltenham Festival.
“It’s been a few years since I’ve been challenging for the jockeys’ championship, but my ambition in life is still to win one. I never set myself targets, I just try to ride as many winners as I can. So long as I perform to my best that’s the most important thing, and I’m actually more motivated than ever.”
But even if he does add these missing honours to his CV, he says one moment can never be surpassed.
“What’s given me the most personal satisfaction in my career was winning on Next Sensation at the Cheltenham Festival [in the Grand Annual in 2015] for my brother,” says Tom. “My grandparents had passed away six months earlier and the horse was owned by the family of my grandfather’s best friend, so it was a really close family moment.
“I’ve been incredibly lucky and could reel off all these wonderful horses I’ve been involved with like Thistlecrack and Lough Derg, but nothing can beat that family connection – that’s what means the most.”
This interview is also available to read in this Thursday’s H&H magazine (8 April, 2021)
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