Harry Cobden: Rising Star of the National Hunt

Harry Cobden “Conditionally Speaking” 1st December 2016

Last week was my quietest for some time. But what it lacked in quantity it more than made up for in quality. Specifically, I had my first ride in a Grade 1 and, as you may know, it was a winner.

I found out on Thursday afternoon that I'd be riding Irving in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on the Saturday. It's a two miler that has been a stepping stone for Champion Hurdlers like Punjabi and Binocular in recent seasons, and my mount was the winner of the race two years ago when he saw off a field including Aurore d'Estruval and Arctic Fire.

Obviously, I was looking forward to riding in a Grade 1, and pretty excited. But, to be completely honest, I didn't know how he'd run, and had no great expectations. When Paul [Nicholls] and I discussed how to ride him, I suggested we try to drop him in, handy enough, come with a run turning in, and go from there.

Paul agreed but suggested I call Nick Scholfield, Irving's regular jockey who was riding three for the team at Newbury, for some advice. Nick just said, "you'll know if you're going to go close after three hurdles - from the feel he gives you. If he's travelling you've a chance".

Heading up to the races, I wasn't really nervous. In fact, I slept most of the way up there, letting my dad do the driving! As we got close, I did a bit of last minute homework: I already knew what everyone else was planning to do, the form, pace, and so on, but just wanted to go over it one more time. To be honest, I just treated it like any other race. If you overthink these things, they can start to go wrong, can't they?

The jockeys were a little slow into the paddock before the race but as I got out there, I could see that the owners, one of the Axom syndicates, were mob-handed, about 30 of them! They'd all made the effort to travel north, and I hoped they'd be rewarded with a solid run.

Almost as soon as I arrived into the centre of the throng, the bell went for the jockeys to leg up, but it was obvious there was a great buzz of excitement among the owners.

It was a funny race tactically. My plan, as I've said, was to sit third or fourth just off the leaders, but things didn't pan out that way, and I was quickly on to Plan B.

They seemed to go a serious lick early, with Hidden Cyclone in his usual pace-pushing style, and at one stage down the back I got a bit detached from the main players. I didn't panic, and was nudging and nurdling, just trying to coax the old boy into it and keep him interested.

Having gone a good clip for the first mile and a half, the leaders steadied it up a touch turning in which gave me the chance to get back in amongst them. When Petit Mouchoir came down three out, Irving seemed to find another gear and I found myself in front over the second last. Despite not meeting the final flight very well - actually, we walked through it! - we'd still booted a length and a half clear on the landing side, and just held on at the line from Apple's Jade, who rallied late on. Jack Kennedy, on board the runner up, said he thought I had nicked first run, but I wouldn't be so sure. His mare seemed to just take her time to warm up, and if Irving had jumped the last better, I think we'd have won a shade more cosily.

In any case, as we passed the line, I wasn't certain I'd won it. I thought 60/40 I'd held on, but it had been the same at Sandown on the last day of last season, and I called that one wrong, so I sat tight this time around! As you can imagine, I was delighted when it was confirmed that Irving had won, my first Grade 1 ride was a winner in the prestigious Fighting Fifth.

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After the race, the owners made a tremendous amount of noise, celebrating their second win in the race. Mr Nicholls was also delighted - as it turned out, it was his only winner of the day, a very rare event for Team Ditcheat.

Unfortunately there wasn't too much celebrating for me, as I was riding at Leicester on Sunday. I did manage to have a quiet glass with my valet at the Belfry... well, it would have been quiet but for the three hen do's tearing up the place!

I'm not sure where next for Irving. He's had his problems, but seems fine after his big win, and Paul will weigh up his options in the coming weeks. There are no firm plans, though looking through his previous form, the Kingwell Hurdle would be a possible target at this stage.

And that was about the size of it last week. I was second on Unify at Leicester, where I might have won on another day, and I was second again yesterday on Mulcahys Hill behind a pretty streetwise rival from Paul Morgan's yard.

A couple of jockey notices. My good mate and rival in the Conditional Jockeys' title race, Harry Bannister, has unfortunately suffered a nasty arm injury. It looks like he'll be out for a few weeks nursing that one, and I wish him a speedy recovery. Which is not to say I won't be trying to bag a few more winners before he's back!

On a happier note, we were all delighted to see Sam Twiston-Davies back in the saddle yesterday for the first time since he bruised his spleen. Sam's been sorely missed at the yard and, though I've been able to gain some invaluable experience - and ride some nice winners - in his absence, it's great to see him back around the place.

I'm jocked up on an interesting one on Friday at Exeter for Roger Charlton. Best known for training flat horses, Lady Rothschild's Tambour is very well bred and I'm looking forward to a good spin. I may also renew the partnership with Thegreendalerocket, on whom I won at Chepstow five weeks ago. It's another half mile this time, but all he does is jump and stay so hopefully he'll go close again.

Until next week…

- Harry

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