Tom Scudamore rode his first winner in the summer of 1998 as a sixteen year old. Today he lies sixth in the jockeys’ table and only 21 year old Sam Twiston Davies is a younger pilot. The message is obvious. Even in the brutally attritional world of jump racing, if you persist, it gets better. For Tom Scudamore today is better than ever, and far better than many would have predicted in between.
For at the beginning it was actually too easy. He didn’t know he had ridden that first winner, Nordic Breeze for Martin Pipe at Warwick on July 3rd 1998, until six weeks after the event. Tom was on a school rugby tour in Australia when he got a call to tell him that the first past the post at Warwick had been disqualified because the Mr Angel Jacobs who rode it was not the super polished Puerto Rican amateur he claimed to be but a US based professional called Angel Monserrate or sometimes “Carlos Castro.”
The day before that call there had been another good one. It was about his GCSE results from Cheltenham College.Tom had got 2As, 2Bs, 5Cs and a D. In rugby he was a flying winger who was scoring tries on the tour. When he came back he was in the First XV but on November 3rd he got off school to be driven down to Newton Abbot and win over hurdles on the appropriately named Young Thruster for Nigel Twiston Davies. A month later he repeated the trick by a short head on Rake Hey at Hereford. His grand-father was Grand National and Gold Cup winning Michael Scudamore. His father was eight times champion Peter Scudamore who was a partner in Twiston Davies yard. In Tom’s school holidays he rode out for multiple champion trainer Martin Pipe with whom his father had broken the racing mould.
In Tom’s second season he had 114 rides and 13 winners one of which was an amateur riders’ chase at Cheltenham on Countryside Day in November 1999. Tom came on TV, said how thrilled he was to ride his first winner on the track but that he had to get back for a class on Wilfred Owen. Next summer he finally left school on a Friday and was down at Martin Pipe’s on the Sunday. He got the A Levels, in English and Business Studies. He was champion amateur and when he turned professional at the end of 2001 the future looked golden. That was until you realised quite what a weight of expectation was loaded under the saddle cloth. “Those whom the gods wish to destroy,” wrote Cyril Connolly, “they first call promising.”
On the 19th of January 2002 AP McCoy was injured and so Tom Scudamore deputised on five fancied rides for Martin Pipe at Kempton. The second of them was a big chestnut former Henry Cecil classic hope called Londoner having his first run off the flat but already favourite for the Triumph Hurdle. He carted Tom to the front, swerved with him at the first two hurdles and dived left and unseated him at the third. Tom had three more rides to salvage the afternoon. Each of them was pulled up. Cynical observers pondered the name of the beaten favourite with which Scudamore junior had opened this galloping nightmare. It was called Iznogoud.
Scudamore senior remembers the difficult times. “It was always going to happen,” Peter says philosophically, “there he was down at Martin’s where his father had been eight times champion jockey and if he gets beat on something everyone says McCoy would have won on it. It’s the sort of situation you get in sport. ‘We had to pick you but we don’t fancy you’. It’s mental pressure and you just have to get through it. Of course his confidence suffered but as a father there is not a lot you can say but just be supportive.”
Tom rode 32 winners that first professional season, 32 the next and back down to 27 in the season 2003-4. The strike rate which had started at a giddy 33% in that first heedless two winner 6 ride schoolboy season had slumped down to 7% and it is noticeable that it did not begin its upward climb to today’s 16% until he became fully established with David Pipe in charge of the new regime at Nicolashayne. Such figures suggest youthful flair cowed by the twin burdens of a mighty taskmaster and impossible inheritance. But if you want tortured, blame-strewing introspection Tom Scudamore is not your man.
“Look,” he says easily over the Kempton debacle, “I was 19, I was riding something which had been made favourite for the Triumph Hurdle before it had ever run. McCoy won on it next time but it pulled up at Cheltenham and proved an expensive failure. It was frustrating but at the time I was getting enough rides, I was having winners, I was in the bubble. In racing you become institutionalised, you are just worrying about what you are riding today and tomorrow. Martin was not intimidating, but working for him you were conscious of the standards he set and there was no such thing as ‘pleased it has run well.’ He has hard and expects a lot but he can be caring too. Every Sunday morning, the jockeys have to come round and do the feeding. The morning after Kempton I was so down and embarrassed but Martin called me into the office and said you are not doing the feeding, we are going to school Londoner. No recriminations, it made me feel a million dollars.”
There are few regrets as the 31year old Scudamore looks back at his former self. “I suppose I might have been better off going point to pointing,” he says, “getting wider experience and not losing my claim. As it was I got through my claim very quick and suddenly you are meeting McCoy off levels. I beat him a few times claiming three. I beat him a neck claimng at Plumpton and beat Dickie Johnson a neck at Cheltenham. Then suddenly you have lost the claim and those necks are becoming length defeats. I had probably got a bit lazy when I had ridden my claim out and thought that if I didn’t get the Pipe job, I would get the Twiston Davies job. I was riding for lots of big yards and was just rocking up thinking it would happen.”
“I don’t remember any great turning point,” he continues in that lucid way which will make him a shoo-in if he ever wants a job in the media, “I just remember it being very, very easy to start with. I had always, always wanted to be a jockey. I remember Dad riding Strands of Gold when he was favourite and fell in the National. I remember all the family going in the car with him for his last ride at Ascot and everyone ringing up beforehand. Jimmy Tarbuck had rung when we were having breakfast. I had got going very quickly and very young and then suddenly it was more difficult. Around 2003 and 2004 the last fence and hurdle definitely became an issue. I would be driving forward, forward through a race and then get to the last and go rigid and do something completely different. It was absolutely stupid. I remember falling off a horse called Downtherefordancin like that at Bangor. It happens to lots of people but it was happening too often.”
Tom and his father are heavy into cricket analogies and cite the case of Ian Bell having a problem with short deliveries early in his career, accepting it, working on it and coming out more complete as a batsman. “He was trying too hard,” says Peter of his offspring. “We talk every day about every ride but there was not a lot I could say, just help him to get through it. But he has. He never had any technical problems as a rider, he was always a better athlete than me and I really do believe that he is now riding better than he ever has. Of course he and David (Pipe) get on very well and it’s great to see how they are both making their own reputations.”
The odds against the scions of two great masters of separate professions uniting to form a unit remotely as strong as their fathers must be immense in any context. But in their very different ways David Pipe and Tom Scudamore are becoming a formidable combination and every winner lifts them further from their past. “We have known each other for what seems for ever,” says Tom of his 9 year senior confederate, “we can be absolutely honest with each other and if we have disagreements they can be done in the right way, behind closed doors not in the winning enclosure. Of course it has been difficult for both of us but we have had some lovely horses coming through and we have already had some wonderful days with the likes of Madison Du Berlais in the Hennessy (2008) and Lough Derg in the Long Walk at Ascot in 2007. Those two were really important to us at the time.”
Both horses were, of course, inherited from the Martin Pipe regime so there is special pleasure in the emerging stars and no victory more satisfactory than the first English appearance of the expensive French purchase Della’ Arca to win the featured 18 runner Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham a fortnight ago. From both a training and a riding point of view this was a victory which Martin Pipe and Peter Scudamore senior could not have bettered in their prime. Della’ Arca was given time to adjust to the different rhythm, brought stealthily through the big field before being launched with total commitment at the last hurdle and repelled all boarders up the run-in. “Listen,” concludes John Francome, “now that everyone has got off his back, Tom is as good as anyone around.”
The Della’ Arca triumph came just three races after an impressive victory by the stable’s star novice The Liquidator and a week before the big hurdle race at Haydock was taken with completely different all-the-way tactics on Gevrey Chambertin who in turn was followed by a brilliant seasonal re- appearance for Dynaste running second to Cue Card in the Betfair Chase. “It rode as good a race as we thought,” says Tom, “there was no hiding place and he has to be in the mix when he goes on to Kempton on Boxing Day and the other big races. This year it is all very, very competitive and you are going to have to be in top condition and have everything go right to win the big ones. There could be a different result each time.”
It’s the voice of a man at ease with himself. The father of Margot and Myrtle and husband of Lottie who will give him an “ear wigging” if he brings “his work” home with him and who two years ago gave him a guitar for Christmas so that Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones and Dire Straights now have an unlikely imitator. But it’s not that of a man in a safe profession. In April 2012 there were tears in the weighing room. Tom had dislocated his shoulder and knew that this time he would be out for months with corrective surgery. While he was away young Conor O’Farrell rode good winners for the stable. There was a young buck on the hill. “Of course it was going to be difficult,” says Tom with an edge that belies the engaging sunshine of his smile. “It’s the same as any walk of life. I knew that when I came back I had not just to beat him but to ride three times as many winners as him. And I did.”
Last Tuesday saw a long drive up to Sedgefield to ride 11/10 favourite Ainsi Fideles only to turn over when clear at the second last. “Yes, it was a bad day,” says Tom, “but hand-on-my-heart it was not indecision like the Downthereandancin days. In the early stages of my career I was not self-critical enough and if I made a mistake I would take it very personally. But you must not be afraid of making mistakes or of the bad days that are bound to come. On the way back from Sedgefield I was thinking there are so many things I want to do and am nowhere near achieving them. Every race is a new puzzle, so every day is more interesting. You do your homework and watch the videos. You decide with some horses that you can dare a bit more, some need their hand held a little. Seeing what granddad and dad have done might have been a factor but I have never felt as if I was competing against them for my own satisfaction. I want to ride a thousand winners. I want to be champion jockey. Silly as it sounds McCoy is our target and just because we haven’t got near him yet doesn’t mean we are not in it to win it.”
Tom Scudamore is a young man who makes deals with his life and he started early. At the end of that first GCSE year all he wanted to do was to go racing full time. But a trio of enlightened racing fans, English master Chris Haslam, rugby master Ian Wright and house master Martin Stovold sat him down and gave him a bargain. If he stayed on he could do two A Levels not three, he could do Monday and Thursday mornings schooling at Twiston Davies’ and he would be let off for racing in reason. He even missed the Marlborough match for a good ride at Chepstow. “But he delivered on his side,” remembers Chris Haslam, “he got the work done somehow. When he showed up for that English class after winning at Cheltenham I was so surprised that the whole form spent most of the hour watching the race back on the video.”
Now Tom has another bargain to make. It is with his future. “I am 31 now,” he says. “That is nine years younger than A.P. and seven years younger than Dickie Johnson. You never know about these things. Dad retired at 34, Francome at 32. Granddad never had a thought of retiring until Snakestone kicked his face in at Wolverhampton. Dad said he was down at the start on one of Oliver Sherwood’s odds-on at Lingfield and he suddenly realised his time was up. But I honestly don’t feel at all like that. I am focussed on going forwards. I have got years in me yet.”
Anyone remember Jordi Cruyff ? He was the son of football legend Johan Cruyff who never fulfilled the promise of playing for Barcelona under his father at 20 in the mid 90’s and moved on to Manchester United. But things didn’t work out in England and, after four years back in Spain, Jordi slipped away to outposts in Ukraine and Malta and is now managing in Tel Aviv. Tom Scudamore had an even headier start and was lumbered with equivalent over-expectations. But 16 years and 750 winners on, he still looks a fair way from the Holy Land.