Harry looks to be the new prince among jump jock­eys

Nick Townsend talks to Harry Cob­den about life as Paul Ni­cholls’ top jockey at the age of 20

The Racing Paper - - Feature -

Harry Cob­den dis­mounted from Topofthegame at New­bury this week, en­thused by the ef­fi­cient jump­ing of one of Paul Ni­cholls’ hopes for the sea­son ahead. The classy hur­dler who went down by a head in this year’s Co­ral Cup at Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val but with a chas­ing ca­reer planned, is among horses who have been work­ing in prepa­ra­tion for next week’s Lad­brokes Win­ter Car­ni­val at the course.

Cob­den knows bet­ter than most there are many more high­lyre­garded charges like this morn­ing’s mount back at Ni­cholls’ Manor Farm Sta­bles, at Ditcheat from which, over the years, have emerged the mighty Den­man, Kauto Star, Master Minded and many more il­lus­tri­ous performers trained by the ten-times cham­pion.

And as the sta­ble’s No.1 rider, Cob­den will part­ner the best of them.

They in­clude Clan Des Obeaux, “an ex­cit­ing horse”, says Cob­den. Part-owned by Sir Alex Fer­gu­son, the six-year-old con­tests to­day’s Grade 1 Bet­fair Chase at Hay­dock – although vic­tory will be a de­mand­ing quest for the Ni­cholls horse.

As for Topofthegame, he had fallen when trav­el­ling well on his chas­ing de­but at New­bury a year ago and re­verted suc­cess­fully to hur­dling. The six-year-old will reap­pear in a novice chase, prob­a­bly next week­end. “He’s shown a lot of abil­ity over hur­dles,” says Cob­den who schooled him over ten ob­sta­cles on his New­bury out­ing. “If he shows that abil­ity over fences, too, he’ll be a smash­ing in­di­vid­ual.”

Cob­den’s ser­vices are also in reg­u­lar de­mand by Colin Tiz­zard, whose Kil­bricken Storm gave the rider his first Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val vic­tor in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hur­dle, which con­firms the es­teem in which his horse­man­ship is held. And what op­por­tu­ni­ties abound for the 20year-old. Ni­cholls trains more than 150 horses, Tiz­zard has over 100.

And yet, just a cou­ple of years ago, he was fourth on the Ditcheat ros­ter of riders, be­hind Sam Twis­ton-Davies, Nick Scholfield and Sean Bowen. It was pre­sumed he’d have to move on to fur­ther his ca­reer. Not this char­ac­ter. Ear­lier this year, the 2016-17 cham­pion con­di­tional rider, who last sea­son amassed 76 wins, be­came Ni­cholls’ first jockey –then still aged only 19 – with all the rich equine pick­ings that sta­tus im­plies.

You sug­gest to Cob­den that he must wake some days and pinch him­self – although you doubt whether he could find any loose flesh to do so. Tall and lean, he does 10st, but weight en­sured there was never any chance of him fol­low­ing the man he most ad­mires in the other code, Frankie Det­tori, into the Flat arena.

Cob­den is the an­tithe­sis of the ex­u­ber­ant Ital­ian. He feels no need to talk up his tal­ent, pre­fer­ring to at­tribute his rise to “plenty of luck” though, sim­i­lar to Det­tori, he is un­bowed by the pres­sure of rid­ing the coun­try’s best horses.

“I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been rid­ing plenty of nice horses,” he says. “Mr Ni­cholls put me up on plenty of good ones when I was a claimer, and as I got down to my 3lb claim Mr Tiz­zard started us­ing me quite a lot. It’s been right place, right time re­ally.”

His cur­rent win rate in one in ev­ery three rides. “Any day you ride win­ners is bril­liant; any day you go rac­ing is a good day. It’s nice to be as­so­ci­ated with very good yards, nice gen­uine peo­ple who have de­cent horses.”

Yet, he is acutely aware that in this code, the ca­pac­ity for tri­umph and po­ten­tial tragedy walk hand in hand. At Mar­ket Rasen in June, he broke his neck and de­scribed him­self as “lucky to be walk­ing around”. He had walked away from the in­ci­dent, but un­der­went a scan and it was later dis­cov­ered he had frac­tured his G2 ver­te­brae.

Cob­den, who re­turned to the sad­dle last month, re­flects: “It was cer­tainly a bit of a wake-up call.” He adds: “It was a re­ally soft fall. I’ve had hor­ri­ble falls in the past, and you get up and walk away. You have a lit­tle tum­ble like that, you land a bit funny, and some­thing like that hap­pens. It was one of those things – some­thing you can’t worry about in this sport.”

Cob­den hails from a farm­ing fam­ily at Lyd­ford-on-Fosse, in Som­er­set. His par­ents Wil­liam and Sarah, helped out by his brother James, have a beef herd. Cob­den says it’s a life he may well have gone into if his rid­ing tal­ent hadn’t in­ter­vened.

“I’ve al­ways been quite keen on farm­ing, but for the mo­ment the horses pay bet­ter,” he ex­plains with a wry smile. In his spare time, Cob­den is keen on hunting and shoot­ing.

It was a fam­ily con­nec­tion with trainer Ron Hodges that proved the cat­a­lyst to Cob­den’s ca­reer­move. “My grand­par­ents were good friends of Ron and (his wife) Mandy. I was about eight, and Ron found out I rode. He said ‘Oh, I’ll come down and see you ride one day’. Next day, he came down and saw me ride a pony round a field. He said ‘I’ll get you a rac­ing pony’. He and my fa­ther bought me one, and it went from there.”

He adds: “I pro­gressed from pony rac­ing to point-to-point­ing and then Na­tional Hunt. I started rid­ing out for Mr Ni­cholls when I was 13 in the sum­mer hol­i­days, half-terms.”

His first sig­nif­i­cant win­ner ar­rived when he had just turned 17, with Old Guard se­cur­ing the Grade 3 Great­wood Hur­dle at Chel­tenham.

Cob­den has since won four Grade 1s. “Pretty spe­cial,” he agrees, adding that “Diego Du Charmil (in a Grade 1 novice chase at Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val) and Kil­bricken Storm, gave me the big­gest buzz, to­gether with Ul­tragold in con­sec­u­tive Tophams (at Ain­tree). That was un­be­liev­able.”

To win a Chel­tenham Gold Cup is his prime am­bi­tion; a prize the jockey whose feats he would surely like to em­u­late, Ruby Walsh, achieved on Ni­cholls’ Kauto Star in 2007 and 2009.

This very morn­ing, it had been re­ported that Walsh’s form had come un­der scru­tiny, the 39-yearold Ir­ish­man hav­ing lost on six favourites in his last eleven rides.

“But to my mind, he’s still the best,” main­tains Cob­den.

In these times, de­feat on a favourite in­vari­ably in­curs on­line wrath. “I don’t lis­ten to what any­one says,” he in­sists. “I don’t lis­ten to any of that rub­bish on so­cial me­dia where peo­ple try to put you down.”

Wise sen­ti­ments, and as Walsh ob­serves of the ca­reer of any jockey: “When you’re win­ning, you’re a hero. When you're los­ing, you’re a vil­lain.” Young Cob­den is learn­ing swiftly that No.1 means you are also a prime tar­get. His rid­ing sug­gests any crit­i­cism will be rare. And his de­meanour sug­gests he can han­dle it.

“Any day you ride win­ners is bril­liant; any day you go rac­ing is a good day. It’s nice to be aso­ci­ated with gen­uine peo­ple with de­cent horses”

Fes­ti­val suc­cess: Kil­bricken Storm, left, gave Cob­den his first Chel­tenham win­ner in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hur­dle

Great fu­ture: Harry Cob­den

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.