How bravery became the Scudamore middle name
Nick Townsend talks to Peter Scudamore about his remarkable National Hunt family
Rarely can a man have been faced with such conflicting loyalties. It was a near-impossible choice for Peter Scudamore as the field set off for last year’s Randox Health Grand National. Should he train his eyes on his son Tom, partnering David Pipe’s Vieux Lion Rouge, or should they be focussed on One For Arthur, the horse he helped train in Scotland as assistant to his partner Lucinda Russell?
Perhaps in part because ‘Arthur’ was in the rear until making relentless late progress under Derek Fox, Peter’s eyes initially followed Thomas, as he prefers to call him. How he relished the prospect of his son claiming a race that he had never won as a jockey, but which his late father Michael had won on Oxo in 1959.
Fourth at the Canal turn and galloping strongly, Peter admired his son’s riding, but now also admits that a father’s protective instincts are omnipresent, particularly during an event in which eight of the 40 riders will hit the turf. “You keep telling yourself: ‘they’re not going to get hurt, they’re not going to get hurt’,” he says. “But at the same time, you’re always worried and want to make sure they get round safe and sound.”
It was not until eight minutes into the race that ‘Arthur’ loomed into contention before striding powerfully home – a first National triumph for a Scottish-trained runner in nearly four decades. Tom and Vieux Lion Rouge finish safely enough – but sixth.
“I’d have been thrilled for him if he’d won it. Thomas was thrilled for me,” says Peter. “Once a jockey, you never really lose it. I’m living it again through Thomas, and my father lived it again through me.”
The Scudamores may not be quite as deadly as The Sopranos, but they have been a powerful presence for seven decades within National Hunt racing, through patriarch Michael, a Grand National-winning jockey who became a successful trainer; Peter, the eight-times champion jockey, who now assists Russell at her Kinross stables, and Tom, most closely associated with Colin Tizzard’s mighty Thistlecrack. Peter’s other son Michael is also a trainer at his late grandfather’s Bromsash, Herefordshire yard.
Inevitably, the home of the Grand National lies deep in the Scudamore psyche. It is rare for a National to not involve a Scudamore in some capacity. Since 1952, Michael, Peter and Tom have collectively competed 44 times in the Aintree spectacular and in the newly-published book The Scudamores: Three of a Kind there is a compelling and utterly candid juxtaposition of their careers, from the perspecwere tive of all three men, starting with analysis of the 1959 and 2017 Nationals.
The Scudamore gene pool certainly has yielded a surfeit of talent, and Peter was no exception. “Maybe if I’d been brought up in the city and kicked a football or had a pen in my hand I might have been something else. But I was given the situation. It must have been a bit of genes and a bit of opportunity,” the ever-thoughtful Peter contemplates his own career. “We were brought up in an idyllic situation in which we had the chance to ride horses.”
Michael’s contribution was taped before his death in 2014, and he provides a fascinating insight into jump racing imme- diately after World War II.
Peter, just a baby when his father won the 1959 National with Oxo, writes of Michael winning a big race, despite having a broken leg, albeit with the qualification: “but only the outside bone, not a supporting bone.”
He adds: “Dad was just one of many jockeys from that time who were like that. As (jump jockey) David Mould says, they were war children. There was a macho-ness that he was brought up with. You didn’t wear a helmet. Health and safety would never have crossed his mind.”
Two generations on, Tom, who would speak frequently to his beloved grandfather about his riding adventures, says of him: “By Christ he was tough… Probably borderline stupid – that fearless.”
It is a comment borne out of nothing but admiration, but his father Peter reflects: “Yes, I saw him (Michael) as immensely tough. But I saw him as someone who could overcome his fear. That’s a different thing to stupidity. I’ve seen jockeys who are stupid and don’t care if they get hurt. They tend to get smashed up.”
Peter maintains that he and his son were driven by different forces than his father. Immediately post-war survival was paramount. “Dad was maybe a little bit more grounded than me and Thomas. I think we bit more dreamers, searching for recognition and glory whereas Dad had to go out and make a living.”
For as long as many of us can recall, there has been a profitable association of Scudamore and Pipe – first Peter and Martin, and in more recent years, Tom and David. With five winners in the last fortnight, and 31 already this season, Tom is in fine form.
Yet, ask Peter about his awareness that one of his sons is undertaking one of the most perilous jobs in sport, and he concedes: “Sometimes I wish my kids did something else. No, I don’t switch off at all from what Tom’s riding and when.”
It leads you, inevitably, to ask him whom he admires among the more recent generation of jockeys and he readily reels them off: Ruby Walsh, AP McCoy, Brian Hughes, Richard Johnson. Yet, typically with Peter, there is a caveat:
“I haven’t seen anyone ever win on a horse that wasn’t good enough,” he insists. “It’s about the horse. Without Oxo and ‘Arthur’ I wouldn’t have written the book. People say we should make the jockeys bigger names. It’s not about them – it’s about the horse. They win races.”
With that in mind, his thoughts are attuned to preparation of the charges he and Russell oversee at Arlary House Stables. The pair, who amalgamated, both personally and in business ten years ago, currently train around 75 horses. The yard has not looked back since the National victory of ‘Arthur. “His win was a huge influence on us,” says Peter. “There’s no doubt owners have supported us because we’ve won the Grand National.”
The nine-year-old has not raced since Aintree because of injury, but is now poised for his comeback. “There are different possible targets for Arthur – but one being mentioned is the long distance 3½ mile chase at Cheltenham in December,” says Peter. “He seems perfect and has got as much chance as getting to the Grand National next year as anything else.”
Peter’s rationale for writing this unusual but splendid insight into jump racing, a combined process with son Tom, aided by the Guardian’s Chris Cook, is a tribute to his father. “But I also wanted people to appreciate where jump racing came from,” he explains. “Dad lined up against people like Dick Francis, Arthur Thompson, Bryan Marshall, many of whom had had the best days of their lives ripped away from them by war. They laid the foundations for the sport where it is now.”
Yet, throughout, Peter Scudamore doesn’t take himself, or riding, too seriously. “At the end of the day, you’re a professional sportsman, you earn a few quid out of it, and you get out in one piece,” he says, before adding: “I always tell people that I went to school with a chap who became a surgeon at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital. He did proper things. I played all my life…”
“The Scudamores have been a powerful presence for seven decades within National Hunt racing”
Heroes: Oxo and Michael Scudamore win the National
Aintree triumph: One for Arthur wins the Grand National. Inset: Peter and Tom Scudamore