8 January 2006

Tom Scudamore defies all the red tape.

Balls and  bureaucracy had to be overcome by the big winners at Sandown. Bureaucracy for Tom Scudamore to finally pass the post-concussion medical procedures, balls because, let’s put this tastefully, those belonging to star hurdler Noland were too big.

We will return to how, now unencumbered this handsome five-year-old ran impressively clear of his Tolworth Hurdle rivals, but let’s start with 23- year-old Tom Scudamore slugging home on the 25-1 shot Desert Air in the featured Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle, in every sense a man inspired.

Scudamore’s concussion came when the recalcitrant Towns Ender cracked him in the head before the start at Taunton on Jan 30. In the bad old days the jockey would have told the doctor he felt fine, put his head in the basin, and hoped the black spots in his eyes would have gone before his next ride.

One day at Worcester I remember having to read the paper to find out where I was and what must have fallen. Today’s enlightened times insist on a seven-day minimum stand-down, a computer generated ‘Cog Test’ as used by rugby players, and a check out by a neurologist. Fine procedures but not something you want to try and implement over a Bank Holiday weekend.

For while Scudamore got himself a ‘Cog Test’ (and passed it) at Leamington Spa on Thursday, there was such a breakdown of understanding between him and the Jockey Club medical authorities that he was at first told he could not have an appointment with a neurologist for a fortnight. So deep was the impasse that Noland’s successful jockey Christian Williams was actually declared as Desert Air’s rider and Scudamore only re-instated after concerted pressure produced a London appointment (and pass) with a neurologist on Friday afternoon.

The whole saga was symptomatic of the plusses and minuses of the name Scudamore for a jockey. Being the son of record-breaking champion Peter Scudamore gave Tom a golden start. He even rode a winner at Cheltenham on an afternoon off from his A-Levels at Cheltenham College. It also meant that Peter’s own long-standing interest in jockeys’ welfare was a huge advantage when bureaucracy was blocking on Friday. But the name Scudamore also loaded up over-heavy early expectations and after that great beginning and a not totally successful spell with Desert Air’s trainer Martin Pipe, Tom was in danger of becoming something of a forgotten man.

But now working principally with his father’s training set-up in Herefordshire Scudamore junior has put himself back together. He rode 47 winners last season and as this, the 23rd of the current, was worth £57,000 to the winner it represented the richest prize of what is now an eight-season career. “I may seem to have been around for ever,” he said with one of the most engaging smiles in the weighing room, “but I am not that old. The whole concussion saga was a bit of a nightmare but all’s well that ends well and I hope I can go on from here.”

There were certainly welcome signs of flowing confidence in the way he attacked with Desert Air up the inside of what had become a badly chewed-up track. Pipe’s main fancy had been the 9-2 chance Not Left Yet, but he had not the guns as the leaders struggled towards the last and it was left to Nathos, another 25-1 shot, to vainly try and close Desert Air down before the line.

Christian Williams had an eventful enough day long before Scudamore replaced him in Desert Air’s saddle. He had been clear on Ladalko when crashing at the second-last in the three-mile chase but then took splendid compensation when the novice Noland put himself into the frame for Cheltenham in the Tolworth Hurdle. This was Noland’s third race over hurdles and only the fifth of his career, which had begun at the Niarchos stud with Classic heights in mind.

But handsome though Noland was, his personal equipment was far too large. It so slowed him down that he was sold for a mere €2,500. The offending articles were quickly removed and a few months later the now free moving Noland fetched a nifty 70,000gns at the Cheltenham Breeze Up Sales. Is there a message there?

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