Harry Cobden’s Blog: 6th April 2017

The last time I wrote was on the eve of Cheltenham and, while I loved the buzz of the Festival, I was disappointed not to get closer than Zankandar's seventh place in the Stayers' Hurdle.

But the races come thick and fast at this time of year, so I was off to Fontwell the day after the Gold Cup for a winning spin on a nice mare of Anthony Honeyball's called Ms Parfois. She's a good mare, and will definitely improve for another summer under her belt. She could be a Listed mare with a bit of luck.

Last Sunday at Taunton, I got a chance for Mr Tizzard aboard a horse called Valhalla. He'd actually run pretty well in some decent races through the winter, and really seemed to relish the quicker ground. This was my first time riding him, with the plan to make it if nobody else went on. We got a fairly soft lead and he saw it out very well. He's up six for that which will make things tougher but there could be another win in him before the season's out on top of the ground.

Getting up to date, and April has started really well with a lovely winner for Anthony at Uttoxeter and a double for the boss yesterday at Wincanton. The trip up to the Midlands was worthwhile as I got to sit on a fine big horse called Indian Brave. He'd come to the Honeyball yard from Neil Mulholland, and this was his first run for his new stable and his first win. Despite still being quite gawky even on his seventh career start, I was always happy at the back of the field and he picked up his main rival - the odds-on Bardd - comfortably even though we made a bit of a hash of the last. He's got a workable rating (121) and looks to have a really nice future when he goes chasing.

Wincanton must be my luckiest track, as Matt was telling me I've now got 20 wins from 49 rides there! That's after a double from three rides yesterday afternoon. I guess I was expected to win on the 4/9 chance Diamond Guy, though he is only my second winner in a National Hunt Flat race. He couldn't have done it more easily, coasting clear by almost a distance. Who knows what he beat, but he definitely has an engine and may just be the pick of the boss's bumper horses this season. As easily as he won today, he'll be a much better horse on winter ground.

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Less predictable perhaps was the performance of San Satiro in a small field novices' hurdle earlier in the afternoon. He was only the third favourite of four in the race, though you'd never have known it the ease with which he won. The margin of two lengths doesn't really reflect his superiority and he was well on top at the finish. Again, the quick ground was not really to his advantage, so he can be rated a bit better than the bare margin and could be a fair animal next term.

THIS WEEK

Moving on, I'm really looking forward to my first ride in the National this weekend, and to the Aintree meeting generally. I had three rides at the meeting last season and I'm really hoping to go one better than the second place Virak and I recorded in the Listed three mile handicap chase.

I ride Old Guard in the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle this afternoon. The former Greatwood Hurdle winner has been out of form most of this season but did show some of his old spark when a close up seventh of 25 in the Coral Cup. In truth, he ought to be outclassed in this field, but there is good prize money all the way down so it's worth rolling the dice.

Ultragold is an interesting runner in the Topham. Colin's horses are just starting to fire again and this lad wasn't beaten far in the Grand Annual. If he gets a clear round in, he'll give a good account of himself having won over this sort of trip a couple of years ago.

On Saturday, I'm really excited to be involved in the greatest race of them all, the Randox Health Grand National, aboard my old mate, Just A Par. The ten-year-old won a veterans' chase for me last time out and, if you think that's not good enough form, keep in mind that Pineau De Re did the exact same thing when he won the National in 2014.

The problem for me is that Just A Par goes to the sale after racing tonight (Thursday) and it will be up to the new owners whether they want to stick with his current rider, i.e. me!, or choose their own. I've got everything crossed that I get a spin in the big one but will just have to wait and see how it goes.

CONDITIONAL JOCKEYS' TITLE

I've moved to 54 winners for the season thanks to that Wincanton double yesterday, and with time running out to the end of the season I'm twenty clear of my good friend, Dave Noonan who has 34 on the scoresheet. With three weeks left to the end of the season, it's probably over as a contest now but I'm keen to keep my head down and ride a few more winners before the campaign is up.

That's all from me this time. I'll be back at the end of the month with a review of what has been a really exciting campaign. Speak to you then.

- Harry

Harry Cobden’s Blog: 10th March 2017

Wow. Has it really been four weeks since I last wrote? Time flies...

It's actually been a fairly quiet month, but I've still managed to put another five wins on the board. They were kicked off by The Geegeez Geegee for, as the name suggests, a syndicate created out of visitors to this website!

It was really great to ride a winner in the geegeez colours and with the geegeez logos on, too. Geegee jumped class that day and was always going to win. He just dossed a little on the run in, giving a hint to his moody side. That less cooperative part of his game was in full evidence when he didn't go a yard for me back at Fontwell a fortnight later.

I knew my fate pretty early, and no amount of pushing and shoving was going to change his mind. He's probably going to be best fresh so might be interesting again after a little break.

Zarkandar is one of the yard favourites at Paul's, and I was lucky enough to get the leg up in the Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock. He was actually rated 168 in his prime and, though now on a mark of just 147, he's still showing plenty of zest. The handicapper raised him four to 151 for that, and he's headed to the Stayers' Hurdle next. With Noel Fehily booked to ride Unowhatimeanharry, there's a chance I'll keep the ride in the Stayers', which would be a fantastic opportunity. He's going well at home and might surprise a few people with a big effort.

Things stepped up a notch for me last Saturday with a nice double at Newbury, the first leg of which was Just A Par. The old boy stuck it out well to win the veterans' handicap chase, and was well on top at the line. I think he's going to the sales now and will be offered with an entry to run in the Grand National. He's gone up six pounds for the win last week but, because the National weights were already published, he can still run at Aintree off 146, so might be nicely handicapped! All he does is jumps and stays.

Then, in the last race on the card, I managed to break my bumper hoodoo on Anthony Honeyball's Sam Brown. I say hoodoo because this was my first National Hunt Flat winner, at the 26th time of asking! Sam is quite highly rated now - I think his RPR would be 130 if he was in the Champion Bumper. They went a good gallop and it rode like a good bumper. He repelled three separate challenges through the race, and it was more probably a fair bit more impressive than it looked.

The Sam Brown form has been franked in the last couple of days by Lalor and Daylami Kirk, who ran 1-2 on Thursday at Wincanton. Lalor was second to Sam Brown when Sam won his debut, and Daylami Kirk was well back that day. I rode him both times. I'd say he's a nice novice hurdle prospect for next season, and that was a good step forward this week.

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Coole Cody got his head in front at the fifth time of asking. He's a very nice horse that was only beaten three lengths by Neon Wolf on his second start. He needs to settle better and if he does, could be a smart novice chaser next season. He'll probably also improve for better ground. He's definitely one to keep on the right side.

Saturday

I've got four rides at Hereford this afternoon. My best chance might be Pearls Legend (4.00). He was fifth in the Grand Annual at Cheltenham last March, and has dropped eight pounds since then. He ran better last time on ground he'd have hated, finishing third, but still got dropped three pounds. Now on 130, I can either make it or take a lead, and if we go quick that will suit me fine.

Castarnie (1.40) is a little in and out. He needs to jump better than he has been and, if he does, he's got a squeak.

Shinooki (2.15) looks high enough in the handicap just now but he'll like conditions, so if he brings his Fakenham form another win is not out of the question.

Similar comments apply to Muffins For Tea (4.35). He's not obviously well weighted, but has a bit of a chance having run well here in a novice hurdle two back.

 

Next week

I'm down to ride Allchilledout at Chepstow on Monday. He hated the ground the last day and the track would have been sharp enough, but he's got good form round Chepstow, and should run his race.

Then it's Cheltenham. I have a few possibles though I won't know final running plans until nearer the time. Some might not get in and some might be ridden by other people! But this is how it looks at the moment.

I have one ride on Tuesday, in the Ultima Handicap Chase. I'm on a horse called Viconte Du Noyer, who won over a quarter mile further here at the BetVictor (Open) meeting. Ignore his last run, where he put two feet in a ditch in the Welsh National. He's actually only three pounds higher than his November win here, so has some sort of chance.

I can also pass on a good word for Romain de Senam. He galloped well the other day, and goes to the Novices' Handicap Chase (closing race on day one) in great fettle.

On Thursday, I'm scheduled to ride Mr Mix in the Pertemps. In truth, he's probably going to struggle a bit in this rarefied company, but he's unexposed at the trip and we're hoping that brings about some improvement.

Later that afternoon, with luck I'll get another chance on Zarkandar. The Stayers' is obviously a very hot race but, as I said earlier, I quietly fancy him to run into the first four or five.

Brio Conti is entered for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' race on Friday. He has a hell of a chance if he scrapes him, but that looks unlikely at this stage, sadly. I'd be hopeful of picking up a ride though, fingers crossed..

 

SEASONAL SCORES

I'm up to 48 winners now for the season, closing in a maiden 50. That would be amazing but I'm certainly not counting my chickens. Dave Noonan is up to 30 now, and my closest rival, with Jamie Bargary on 29. It would be amazing if I could get a winner this weekend and then make 50 at Cheltenham next week, but that's probably a pretty wild dream! We'll keep kicking and hope to get those two I'm chasing before too long.

Until next time, I wish you the best of luck at Cheltenham next week, and let's hope all goes safely and well...

- Harry 

Harry Cobden’s Blog: 10th February 2017

Hello again, nearly the middle of February and Betfair weekend at Newbury, doesn't time fly?

Since I last blogged, I've ridden a couple more winners, the most recent being the most significant. Diego Du Charmil's victory in the Scottish County Hurdle was my 75th overall, which means I can no longer claim a conditional's allowance. It took me 23 months and 377 rides, and I'm told that's a strike rate of 19.9%, which is pretty good I guess!

Of course, I have to be thankful to many people, most importantly all the owners who have continued to support me, and also especially Paul Nicholls, Anthony Honeyball, Michael Blake, Ron Hodges and Colin Tizzard, all of whom have had enough faith to leg me up on their stable charges. Thank you!

Back to Diego du Charmil, the Fred Winter winner at last year's Festivaal, and it was a really nice performance in a good race. He loves top of the ground but has gone up to 149 now, which might just anchor him for a while. Still, it would be no surprise to see him make another trip north, to Ayr for Scottish Champion Hurdle in April.

A couple of weeks earlier - has it really been that long? - Virak ran well in defeat in the Peter Marsh Chase on very soft ground at Haydock. He's been dropped another five pounds to 147, which is almost a stone lower than when he ran second in the same race last year, and he must be getting well handicapped now. Soft ground and three miles plus is what he needs.

Anthony Honeyball's Cresswell Breeze is a tough little mare that I rode to finish second in a Listed Chase towards the end of January. She was beaten far enough by Desert Queen, a very smart horse on her day, but nicely clear of some decent mares in behind. This was probably a career best effort for her, and she is entered at Catterick for a Grand National trial on Monday.

At a lower level, Madame Lafite was surely going to win when brought down by the only horse in front of her two out. Johnny Portman's five year old is an ex-flat racer who was having her first start in a handicap: she's a nice genuine mare who will win races if her confidence is not affected by this spill.

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Ibis du Rheu is another Festival handicap winner I steered since I last wrote. He won the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' race, and ran a big race here when third in a quality Cheltenham novices' handicap chase. The race is normally a good pointer to the Festival handicaps, and my lad got hampered at a crucial stage.

I wasn't overly hard on him once his chance had gone but he ran on well. He'll have Festival targets off this same mark, 146, so with slightly better ground likely, he goes with a fighting chance just seven pounds higher than last year's win at the big meeting.

One who was perhaps a little disappointing on Trials Day is Old Guard. He showed a little bit in midfield behind Unowhatimeanharry in the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle, but was beaten 18 lengths by the line. He could conceivably be one for something like the Coral Cup on better ground, though 150 is high enough in the weights. He has to prove he's the same horse that won the Greatwood and International Hurdles in the early part of last season.

I'm developing a soft spot for doughty stayer, Royal Salute. Since picking up the ride two starts back, which has coincided with the horse going up in trip and tackling softer groun, he's won both times. He ran possibly his best race yet when comfortably winning a Plumpton marathon on heavy. He's been nudged up five to 119, which seems fair enough, and he could still be progressing when faced with stamina-sapping conditions. His trainer has half an eye on the Eider Chase, over four miles at Newcastle! Sadly, he's unlikely to make the cut.

At the top level of race riding, where I aspire to be, it's about getting your head down, working hard, and making as few mistakes as possible. But we're all human, and I have to admit that my ride on Sweeping Beauty was not my finest hour. I got trapped wide and far enough back, but she was game enough to run on into third on the Lingfield all weather track. She was a touch better than the bare finishing position, and sold cheaply for just £12,000 at last week's Tattersall's mixed sale, which should turn out to be an absolute bargain.

 

FUTURE ENTRIES

Looking forward, today I ride Bears Rails for Colin Tizzard. He stayed on well over an extended three miles last time and I'd be more worried about the eight pound hike in the handicap than the half mile step up in trip. Also, I can't claim the three I had when he won last time now, so he's effectively up eleven, but on the positive side, he's still a relatively lightly raced seven year old so may have more to offer. I'll probably be front rank, but there are a few others who can race handily, so we'll play it by ear. I'd be no more than hopeful in what will be a gruelling race.

 

Looking to the weekend and I have been jocked up on a couple of nice horses at Warwick tomorrow. I still don't know if they'll run yet, so we'll have to see. Frodon is a smart horse but whether the two miles of the Kingmaker is enough of a test for him I'm not sure. Half an hour later, Vibrato Valtat may attempt to defy top weight in a handicap chase. He's two from two at Warwick, including when winning the 2015 Kingmaker, but has yet to prevail over this half mile longer trip despite running well in defeat on a number of occasions.

On Monday, I'm down to ride Dragoon Guard for one of the geegeez.co.uk syndicates. He's been a hard horse to win with, but I understand he's had a wind operation since his last run. He shouldn't mind any ease in the ground - he has a quite pronounced knee action - so if his wind is reasonably sound he'll hopefully be in the mix.

SEASONAL SCORES

I'm up to 43 winners now for the season. Jamie Bargary and Dave Noonan are both on 29, and there are roughly 11 weeks left of the season. My first - and only real - target is to try to win the conditional jockeys' title, but I'd really love to get the seven winners I need for 50 in my first full season riding. I'm just about on track, but things change fast in this game so I'll keep kicking!

Until next time...

- Harry 

Harry Cobden’s Blog: 20th Jan 2017

My second blog of the new year, and hopefully a few more interesting horses to tell you about. Let's start at the start...

Two Saturdays ago I had three rides for Colin Tizzard, the pick of which might turn out to be Lillington. The son of Westerner was having his first try in handicap company and beat all bar the winner there. It shouldn't be too long before he goes one better. A horse with a similar name, Cucklington, made his debut over fences the same day and ran only all right. He's back on Saturday in a similar race at Taunton, with a nice racing weight, and should come on plenty for that first experience of the big obstacles.

The following day I managed to snare another winner for Mr Tizzard. Bears Rails is a nice horse, although he has a few ideas of his own maybe! With blinkers on for essentially the first time (ignoring the void race he ran in on Boxing Day), I gave him a forward ride around Fontwell - which would have been tight enough for him - and he jumped like a pro, keeping on well in the end. He's still relatively young at seven, and has already won three chases, so could have a bit more to come later in the season.

Reilly's Minor was a horse I thought might be worth following, and I wouldn't give up on him just yet. He was stepping up a full three-quarters of a mile at Catterick and just didn't seem to get home. If dropping back in trip to around 2m6f ideally on a left-handed course, he can get back on the winning track.

More recently, I notched another winner for the very lucky Anthony Honeyball Racing Club with Royal Salute. Those enthusiastic owners have enjoyed eight winners from 21 runners this season, with another nine places! This lad is a thorough stayer and he put that to good use over three and a quarter miles of Plumpton's soft turf on Monday. He won going away in the end, and he only does as little as he can get away with. As a result he may still be half a stride ahead of the handicapper, and all he does is stays. That was his third win since April last year.

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Another who may have gone a couple of furlongs too far was Coole Cody, who probably also bumped into one in Harry Fry's Over To Sam. Cody will hopefully drop back to around two and a half miles and is capable of winning a novice event somewhere before facing his handicap mark.

Although I was only fourth on him, I was quite taken with As De Fer yesterday. He is slow enough but stays very well. I tried to make it but couldn't lay up with a pace that was too fast but, having got outpaced, Anthony's horse was closing again at the finish. He could go close over a trip with a bit of soft ground.

Finally, Monsieur Co was obviously lucky to win, Harry Fry's horse coming down at the last with the race at his mercy. But our lad hasn't been in that long and should improve a fair bit for the run. Saying that, he still made quite hard work of this.

As well as my boss, Paul Nicholls, I've been lucky enough to have ridden a fair bit for Colin Tizzard in recent weeks. He's got some serious horses in the yard this season and is a very easy-going man to work for.

I ride Robinsfirth for him this afternoon in a hot novices' handicap chase. An eight year old son of Flemensfirth (how did you guess?), he's not had much racing and this will be only his eighth race. He's well regarded at home and should run very well if putting in a clear round, with the step up in trip expected to suit.

Colin runs his 'talking horse', Alary, in the Peter Marsh on Saturday, and I think it's nuts that the French import is so short for the race. Mind you, he needs to be winning that if he's to justify a pretty skinny price for the Gold Cup!

I'm due to ride Virak, who has a right chance, that race. I'll probably be handy, and he was second in this race last year off a seven pound higher mark. A bit of cut is ideal, which he should get, and I'm really looking forward to the ride.

I also ride Irving in the Stan James Champion Hurdle Trial. If he can repeat his Fighting Fifth win he'd almost be the one to beat, but he was disappointing twice before that so definitely needs to put his best foot forward again.

I'm up to 41 winners in the Conditional Jockeys' Championship race now. Jamie Bargary has 27, the same as Dave Noonan, and they are sharing second spot. With more than three months left in the season, I'm not counting my chickens just yet. We all know that you're only ever one tumble away from a long layoff, so we'll keep on pushing.

I've now only got two winners left on my claim, with a career total of 73, so with luck by the time I speak to you next I'll have ridden it out. I guess that's when the hard work really starts!

- Harry

Harry Cobden “Conditionally Speaking” 3rd January 2017

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you've all gorged yourselves on turkey and the trimmings while us jockeys have been on the usual diet of gruel and water!

Quite a lot has been happening since my last blog, what with it being a busier time over the festive period with lots of rides to share around. Saying that, I've only had four for the boss, but it's been a case of quality over quantity there.

One of the rides for Mr Nicholls was on the smart hurdler, Mr Mix. He won the Pertemps Qualifier on Boxing Day at Wincanton (one of the lads has dubbed it 'Wincobden' (!), as I've ridden 16 winners from 36 rides there) off a mark of 139. He probably did it a little better than the winning margin of three-quarters of a length suggests: having got hampered at the top of the hill, I had a lovely run down the inner and when he hit the front he just dossed a bit. That may be just as well as it could keep him a stride ahead of the handicapper with luck, and I'd be hopeful there's a bit more in the tank. He's a very nice horse who is now qualified for the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival.

If Mr Mix was the Boxing Day high I didn't have to wait long to be brought back down to earth with a bump. 35 minutes later I rode a mare called Antarctica de Thaix. She'd been left in the lead at the third fence, and was cantering a distance clear before just crumpling on landing at the third last, giving me no chance. I felt very sorry for the owners, but they were quite calm and understanding.

There was still time on the same day to get stuck in a ditch when a melee ensued in a handicap chase which had to be declared void when none of the horses managed to complete; and to ride a promising sort in the closing bumper. Johanos was his name, and I think he will win a novice hurdle in due course. He's a big scopy type who definitely wants more of a trip, and could be one to look out for at a price given his trainer, Nigel Hawke, isn't the most high profile handler.

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Sadly, I was on the deck again the next day, as Richard Woollacott's Millanisi Boy was just backing out of it having run a fair race to that point in a decent three mile handicap hurdle. He's likely to go novice chasing now, and might be worth a second glance if the ground comes up heavy.

My last winner of 2016 was for Warren Greatrex. Warren has been looking around for 'best available' after both of his main stable jockeys, Harry Bannister and Gavin Sheehan, have suffered fractures. On this occasion, I rode Reilly's Minor in a Taunton handicap. He'll defintiely stay further and could be ten pounds better when going left-handed (hangs notably left). He runs in the Cole Harden colours, and should win again now he's got his head in front.

My last ride of the old year was on board Lucy Wadham's Game On. He is another big scopy type, by Gamut, and looks capable of going close in a novice hurdle.

Perhaps the nicest horse I've ridden since my last blog is Robinsfirth, who did it really well in a fair beginners' chase on New Year's Day. He's a lovely jumper, travelled like a dream, and stayed on very well. He'd already been given a mark of 135 ahead of this effort and might be a candidate for the novices' handicap chase at the Festival, depending on his revised rating.

He's a big unit - at least 17'2 - and is pretty unexposed after two years off the track. He is a very nice prospect and definitely one for your Geegeez Tracker.

Earlier in the afternoon, I finished second on Michael Blake's Coole Cody. He is a free going type and he travelled really well. I thought I was going to give the winner a run for his money but he just got a little outpaced in the last furlong. He might pay for this performance with the handicapper but, for five grand, the owners look to have bagged themselves a bargain.

In the conditional jockeys' title race, I'm now on 38 winners. Dave Noonan is on 26, Jamie Bargary 25, and Harry Bannister 22.

Here's to more good winners for all of us in 2017.

- Harry Cobden

Harry Cobden “Conditionally Speaking” 15th December 2016

Being fortunate enough to be attached to Paul Nicholls’ powerful stable is a blessing for a conditional rider like myself, but the return of Sam Twiston-Davies after his injury has meant the boss has had to shuffle his pack, and I’ve had a quieter time of it in the past fortnight.

Despite that, there have still been some nice horses, not least of which is the highly progressive Tobefair. Mrs Hamer’s six-year-old by Central Park gave me a great feel at Chepstow in a competitive handicap hurdle, eventually winning by two lengths. He’s a really nice big chasing type who has won his last five races now, moving from an opening rating of 81 to his current mark of 126! I think he could still be ahead of the handicapper over hurdles, but I can also definitely see him winning a couple of novice chases in time.

On the same Chepstow card, I rode Daylami Kirk, a 33/1 outsider, trained by Ron hodges. He’s a huge lad – he stands at about 17'2 – and this striking son of Daylami really impressed me. This was his debut and we were only headed in the last half a furlong: there is undoubtedly more to come from this horse as he was green throughout, and I'd be confident in saying that he will run a tidy race next time. Looking ahead, a fellow with his size, I'd imagine his future could be quite rosy over fences in years to come.

In keeping with the way it has been in recent times, All Set To Go provided me with another Saturday win last weekend – my third week in a row where Saturday has been ‘winner day’.

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Rated 102 when last seen on the flat, he showed a nice turn of foot after the last in this decent Doncaster handicap hurdle. All the way around he jumped and travelled great and won a little cosily, although one thing I will say is the handicapper hasn't taken any chances with a revised mark of 146.

A couple of hours later, my old mate Cliffs Of Dover proved as tough as ever showing some real class in the process. He travelled and jumped beautifully as I made the running and, jumping the fourth last I was about 15 lengths clear. I managed to get a breather into him after the third last so, as one of Joseph O’Brien’s came within a few lengths of us after the last, my lad was firmly in command, though he did finish quite tired. He’s likely to be push higher than his current perch of 140 when reassessed, and he's one of the highest rated juveniles in the country. Surely he’s entitled to a crack at the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival now.

I ride Royal Native for Anthony Honeyball this afternoon. There aren’t too many secrets with this chap, who was a bit unlucky to come down last time in a better race. The drop in grade combined with a return to his last winning mark and a testing track mean he’s well suited to conditions and I’m hopeful of a good spin round.

Looking further ahead, I’m waiting to see what I might ride at the weekend. Modus is a possible in the last race at Ascot, a valuable handicap hurdle over two miles. He’s gone up a few pounds for two narrow defeats in his last two starts, but remains in good form.

And a bit further on than that, I can pass on a strong word for Amour De Nuit. A smart flat horse, rated as high as 106 for Sir Mark Prescott, he could make his debut in a maiden hurdle at Taunton on Monday. He’s schooled brilliantly and, though he may want further in due course, he ought to be capable of winning first time up.

Even through what has been a quiet spell for me, my tally is up to 35 winners for the season, putting me 13 winners clear in the conditional jockeys’ title. As I always say, though, you’re only ever one tumble away from sitting a few months out, so there will be no complacency in this corner!

Until next time,

- Harry

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.

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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.

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

Harry Cobden “Conditionally Speaking” 22nd November 2016

Last week was another good week for me, which started just down the road...

Wincanton is my local track, and one of my favourite tracks, too. It once again provided me with a winner, in the form of Brelan D'As. He had some really smart form in France, and clearly couldn't have been right on his one run at Exeter in heavy ground back in February. He is a different horse this term though, and the way he settled and jumped impressed me tremendously. I certainly don't think he will ever see a handicap mark of 130 again!

That was a first winner for me in the famous green and gold silks for Mr McManus, to whom I'm very grateful for the opportunity to ride for over the past couple of weeks.

On Friday at Haydock, Capitaine stepped up in to Listed company. Unfortunately he was keen throughout and the Hobson horse, Tahira, had a very easy lead from the front. That one probably stole the race turning in, but Capitaine kept on well up the straight to finish second. It was a likeable performance, and I think there's definitely more to come from this striking four-year-old.

Politologue is a big imposing chasing type by Poliglote. A Listed novice hurdle winner at two miles last season, this was his first time over fences, though you would never have known the way he travelled and jumped brilliantly. Every time I came to a fence he would take a length out of his field where he jumped so great. Turning into the straight he was cruising and when I let out an inch of rein he took off. It must have been some performance as he earned quotes of 20/1 for the RSA [top priced 25/1, Ed.].

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In a week of firsts for big owners, it was my first winner for Mr Hales, who is a huge supporter at Ditcheat and has had so many good horses over the years, the most notable ones being Neptune Collonges, who won the 2012 Grand National, Al Ferof, Azertyuiop, and of course One Man.

There are no immediate plans for Politologue at this stage, but the RSA would be the obvious seasonal target. I wouldn’t be thinking he’s only a mud-loving horse either; he ought to be just as effective on better ground.

I also rode Brio Conti in a decent novices’ hurdle. He’d fallen at the first on his first start over timber, where he just over-jumped and landed a little steep and found himself on the floor. This time, Brio was quite keen throughout, and he was winging every hurdle which wasn't helpful when I was trying to hold onto him! This horse gave me a really good feel and I think he will make a very nice chaser in turn, but not before he picks up a nice Saturday handicap hurdle or two first.

In the big handicap hurdle at Haydock on Saturday, I was lucky to pick up the ride on Yala Enki. He’s a relentless galloper who just kept on keeping on, eventually finishing third. I think the plan is to go back over the bigger obstacles now – he’s already a dual chase winner in France and top class handicaps over fences is likely to be his next challenge.

It was very good of Clive Hitchings, who also owns Virak down at Ditcheat, to get me the ride when his regular jockey became unavailable.

I'm not booked to ride anything for the weekend at the moment, but hopefully I'll have a couple of nice rides on Friday and Saturday. They might include Sweeping Beauty, a bumper horse that is entered up at Doncaster on Sunday. She’s a filly I rode last time at Huntingdon over this sort of trip, and she really impressed me that day. I think she should go very close if she runs.

One who is going very nicely at home, as you might expect from a horse that cost £270,000 at the Goff’s Aintree sale, is Give Me A Copper. Owned, amongst others, by Sir Alex Ferguson and Jeremy Kyle, this son of Presenting is from the same family as Cheltenham Festival winner, Copper Bleu, and is a full brother to the smart Presenting Copper. Give Me A Copper has three entries this weekend, and he might just be one for the Albert Bartlett at the Festival [for which he is a top-priced 25/1, Ed.]. He has to win his novice hurdle first, though!

Another two winners for me this week mean I’m now on 31 wins in the Conditional Jockeys’ Title race. Harry Bannister pulled one back yesterday and is on 20 now, the same as David Noonan, and Jamie Bargary was also among the Monday winners, moving on to 17 for the season. I’ve got clear daylight at the moment, but we all know that things can change very quickly so I’m certainly not taking anything for granted.

Until next week…

- Harry

Harry Cobden “Conditionally Speaking” 15th Nov 2016

After winning on Viconte de Noyer at Cheltenham Saturday

After winning on Viconte du Noyer at Cheltenham Saturday

It was a quieter week for me last week, though quality more than made up for quantity.

I rode a nice mare for Mark Tompkins at Huntingdon on Tuesday, called Sweeping Beauty and, though she was sent off at 50/1, she made a really eye-catching debut. She's quite a buzzy filly so we decided to drop her in. During the race, she travelled great and quickened up well when I asked her to finish second, only beaten two lengths by the winner. She might run at Warwick in a mares' bumper next and hopefully I'll have the ride on her because I think she will go very close.

Then it was all roads lead to Cheltenham for the really competitive Open meeting, where I had four rides on the Saturday, including Frodon in the big race, the BetVictor Gold Cup.

First up was the staying handicap chase, where I got the leg up on Viconte Du Noyer for Colin Tizzard. Looking at the race beforehand I thought it was a really bold decision by Mr Tizzard to run this horse at Cheltenham, stepping up in trip almost a mile and a half, because he ran a brilliant race at Aintree last season over two miles in the Red Rum Handicap Chase: getting hampered up the run in and only being beaten two lengths it was an excellent performance.

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In the race itself, Viconte Du Noyer travelled and jumped great the whole way, and I was able to deliver him at the second last with his challenge. He went on to win by a length and a half after I'd tried to keep a bit up my sleeve to make sure we would get up that everlasting Cheltenham hill!

I'm very grateful to Mr and Mrs Potts for giving me the opportunity to ride for them in such a big race, and really pleased I was able to win for them.

In the big race of the meeting, I rode Frodon, a Grade 2 winner the previous Saturday. Still only four, he was travelling beautifully until he banked the fence at the top of the hill, four out, which finished his chances of winning this day. After that, I just coaxed him home to finish down the field. He remains a horse with plenty of upside for the season.

Millanisi Boy is a nice chasing type but he was a big price for the handicap hurdle over two and a half miles. I wanted to keep wide throughout because the inside was beginning to get very patchy, and turning in I thought I was going to win. But we just lacked a bit of toe up the hill, running a great race to finish third, eventually beaten four lengths. That was off a mark of 122, and his trainer, Richard Woollacott, is now thinking about going over fences with him, though he may have one more run in a handicap hurdle first. He should make up into a very decent chaser when the time comes.

In the closing Listed mares' bumper, I was on board Pearl Royale, a really big imposing filly by Robin Des Champs. She was a no hoper according to the betting but, though very keen throughout, she was only beaten seven lengths by the winner, finishing a very eye-catching 5th. I think she will be a mare that we could be seeing a fair amount of in Listed mares' races in the not too distant future.

On Sunday, I had just the one ride, but it was on a very talented lad in the Greatwood Hurdle. I won the race twelve months earlier on Old Guard, my first big race success, and this year I rode Modus who is owned by Mr McManus. He was second at the Cheltenham Festival in the Champion Bumper of 2014 and it's always a positive when they've run well around Cheltenham.

In truth, he didn't really travel like a contender throughout most of the race but turning down the hill I had a lovely run up the inner which got me into a nice position before turning into the home straight. From there, I jumped the last upsides and probably nosed in front halfway up the run in, but unfortunately we got out-battled by North Hill Harvey. Still, it was a really nice performance by Modus, and I think he will be a serious two mile chaser in time.

It looks like being a fairly quiet week for me, though I'll probably be heading to Haydock on Saturday to renew my partnership with Old Guard in the Betfair Price Rush Hurdle. He's still only five, and this will be his first spin over hurdles since he ran behind Faugheen in the Christmas Hurdle last December.

I may also get the call for Mr Mix in the Grade 3 Betfair Exchange "Fixed Brush" Handicap Hurdle. He ran a cracking race in the Silver Trophy last time, and would have nearly won but for stepping at the third last. Even so, he was only beaten two lengths, with Taquin De Seuil [BetVictor Gold Cup winner] a length behind, and that is very good form. He has a live chance in an open looking race.

Have a great week.

- Harry

Harry Cobden “Conditionally Speaking” 8th Nov 2016

It’s been another good week for me with four winners from eleven rides, and a personal milestone as well.

Last Thursday, Unify won her third novice chase, dropping back in trip from her last two runs. She travelled and jumped well to win by a length and quarter. She has her issues, so huge credit goes to Antony Honeyball who has done a brilliant job placing her in the right races.

Saturday was my eighteenth birthday, and I had a fantastic book of rides at Wincanton. Capitaine and Boa Island were very short priced favourites, both really nice progressive horses who travelled and jumped brilliantly to win very nicely.

Capitaine is still learning and was maybe a little bit keen here. But he’s classy and his owner and trainer will put their heads together about maybe stepping him up in grade next time.

The day got better with Frodon bolting up in a small but select field in the Grade 2 Rising Stars Novices’ Chase. He’s still only four and is very smart. Best of all, he gets a lovely weight chasing because of his age. He's an easy horse to ride because he jumps and travels so well throughout his races, and he gave me my highest level win, my first in Grade 2 company.

Southfield Theatre was very unfortunate not to win the Badger Ales Trophy Chase. Turning in to the straight I wanted to make ground on the leaders, and as we jumped the second last upsides I felt like I had it won. Coming down to the last with a half a length advantage, my lad just clipped the top of the fence and, very disappointingly, came down.

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Annoyingly, I also came off Zubayr at the last. While he was probably held at the time, we were rallying and it might have been close. The main thing is that both are fine so they should be back in action soon enough. Mrs Yeoman, Southfield Theatre’s owner, was especially good about it considering there was a very trophy – and pot – up for grabs. I’m very thankful for her kindness, but disappointed he didn’t quite get high enough.

Although it was my eighteenth birthday, I just had a quiet night with no big celebration, because on Sunday, I was at Ffos Las for another nice couple of rides. City Supreme will definitely come on from his run, and with any luck the handicapper will drop him a couple of pounds for finishing 7th. He looks sure to be bang there next time.

Unify was unable to build on her third win in six weeks when only third in a handicap chase. She might find life a bit tougher now.

I’m now up to 28 winners for the season, putting me nicely clear in the conditionals’ race at the moment. But I know I have to keep my head down, ride well, and continue to develop. I’ve been fortunate to have the support of Mr Nicholls and Anthony Honeyball, as well as a number of other very supportive trainers.

Looking forward to this week, I ride John Biscuit at Huntingdon today. He has to have a chance only going up three pounds for his win at Plumpton, and I’d be optimistic that he could be progressive now he's got his head in front. Off a mark of 82 he still looks well treated.

All going well I might get another chance to ride Frodon in the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday. He was very impressive around Wincanton the weekend just gone, and I'm really grateful that Mr Nicholls and the owners, Mr Vogt and Mr Fogg, are thinking of keeping me on him. He's got a lovely weight and the track and trip should suit just right.

It was a busy Monday morning yesterday schooling some of the weekend runners. All the horses seem in great shape and it was very good to see Sam Twiston-Davies making an appearance this morning after his nasty fall at Chepstow’s opening meeting, Sam should hopefully be back race riding this weekend.

Sam’s fall and, much worse, Freddy Tylicki’s at Kempton are a stark reminder that all jockeys are only one fall away from serious injury. It is obviously a risky sport for all involved. The mood in the weighing room this week has been sombre, with plenty of the lads going to see Freddy.

One small silver lining is the attention the Injured Jockeys’ Fund has received, and the number of people who have contributed either directly to Freddy or to the IJF shows racing in a positive light at a very dark time.

Have a great week.

- Harry

Harry Cobden, “Conditionally Speaking”, 1st November 2016

Luckily, it’s been another good week for me. I mentioned Thegreendalerocket in my first blog last week, and he won well at Chepstow, by three lengths. I wanted to make plenty of use of his stamina because he's a real staying chaser so I was handy all the way on him and, though I was planning to hold onto him for longer, we hit the front half way down the back straight because he was jumping so well.

I didn't want to hold him back because I knew that, being a strong stayer, he probably wouldn't have a turn of foot in the straight so keeping the gallop up played into my hands. Turning into the straight with four fences to jump, I had a peek under my arm only to see that everyone else was off the bridle. Thegreendalerocket floated up the straight to win nicely, and hopefully a few geegeez readers were on. It was a great training performance from Jimmy frost, and it was a pleasure to ride for such lovely owners.

The five-hour drive to Wetherby on Friday was worthwhile, and made a lot sweeter with my first Listed success, provided by Cliffs of Dover. He really showed his class there: he jumped and travelled with ease throughout and quickened up nicely to win by a convincing nine Lengths. Winning his fourth race in fifteen days was amazing and I'm very grateful to his owners, Mr and Mrs cotton, and to Mr Nicholls for keeping me on board. He’s a seriously tough and genuine little horse, and he might just head to Cheltenham in ten days’ time.

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John Biscuit was a bit more unexpected, and a pleasant surprise on Monday at Plumpton. His form looked like he travelled to the second last but was one paced from then onwards, so between myself and his trainer, Jo Davis, we decided to try something different and drop him in. He travelled and jumped great throughout and quickened up nicely after the last to win by half a length. I think he could be quite well handicapped and should go very close next time now he's got his head in front. He was another welcome winner, my third of the week, and I'm now five ahead in the conditional title, on 24 for the season.

It’s a quiet few days between now and the weekend, though we’ve been doing plenty of schooling with the weekend team, who are scheduled to be as far afield as Aintree, Wincanton, and Auteuil in France.

I am booked to ride Unify at Market Rasen on Thursday for Anthony Honeyball. She's high enough in the handicap at the moment but I'm hopeful she can still run a big race because she really gets her head down and tries her best. If she doesn’t run I might be on City Supreme for the same trainer at Newbury. I won on him over course and distance in April, and he should again give a good account of himself if taking up his engagement.

Although plans have not yet been finalised, it looks like I’ll be at Wincanton on Saturday, where I’ll probably ride Boa Island in the conditional jockeys’ handicap chase over two-and-a-half miles. He won a couple of weeks ago over course and distance and, though he’s gone up twelve pounds for that, he seems in good form and I'm hoping for another nice run from him. He'll have top weight but he's a lovely big chasing type and should have no problem carrying the weight.

Thankfully, my boss Paul’s team seem in great shape at the moment and I’ve been lucky enough to pick up some nice rides while Sam Twiston-Davies recovers from his nasty injury. With luck he’ll be back soon, and in the meantime I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’m getting.

- Harry

Harry Cobden, “Conditionally Speaking” 25th October 2016

Harry Cobden blog for geegeez.co.uk

Harry Cobden has 10 winners in the last 30 days

Hello, I'm Harry Cobden and I’m very pleased to be starting my weekly blog for Geegeez.co.uk. I'm currently a 3lb conditional jockey to Paul Nicholls, and my aim at the start of the season was to become Champion Conditional! With 21 winners on the board this season I'm leading by three, so it’s a case of so far so good.

It’s been a brilliant ten days for me with three doubles – at Wincanton, twice, and Kempton in between. I also managed a Cheltenham winner, on Cliffs Of Dover. Wincanton has been very lucky for me in the last week with four winners from eight rides, and I think that’s now eleven of my 53 winners in all at one of our local tracks.

Cliffs Of Dover has had a terrific week, winning at Wincanton (breaking the track record in the process) and then two days later traveling well to win around Kempton Park in a competitive juvenile hurdle. Five days later, we were winning at Cheltenham in the same race that I won last season on Old Guard.

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I went on to win the Grade 3 Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham’s Open meeting with Old Guard. Still only three, Cliffs Of Dover is too young to go there, but he’s a fast improving juvenile. All going well Cliffs of Dover should run at Wetherby on Friday in a Listed race. He's a tough little horse with a big heart, he seems fresh and well at home at the moment, and should hopefully run a big race at, although he does have to carry a penalty.

Mr and Mrs Cotton, his owners, have been quite lucky to have horses like Mon Parrain, Sametegal and Mon Successeur, and this looks another good one for them.

Boa Island could be well handicapped after his performance at Wincanton on Sunday, and could run in the next couple of days under a penalty. He jumped and travelled well and won nicely. Rouge Devils won his second race in nine days earlier in the afternoon, just getting up by a nose. It was a tough performance but he battled the finish out well, and though there may be a nice little handicap hurdle in him, I think his future lies over fences.

I rode Thegreendalerocket (2.00) at Chepstow a couple of weeks ago, and he ran a great race to be third for trainer Jimmy Frost. With Boa Island a non-runner, I've picked up a good spare and think he could improve for the step up in trip, with any ease in the ground expected to be in his favour. I also ride Jimmy's Sangram (5.10) but he might just need the run on his first start for seven months. He's a nice big horse with plenty of scope and I think we could see the best of him when he jumps a fence, possibly a nice novice handicap chase. He's already a point to point winner from a couple of years back.

Things are happening quickly for me at the moment and, although it was only nine days ago, it seems like ages since riding my 50th winner on Miss Tenacious last Sunday week at Kempton. It was a really satisfying milestone, but especially riding a winner for Ron Hodges who has been one of my greatest supporters from a very young age: he actually went and bought half of my first racing pony with my father in Kent when I was nine years old! He has always had a watchful eye on me throughout my pony racing career.

Miss Tenacious has been a wonderful mare for me over the last couple of seasons, rarely finishing out of the first four, and riding for lovely owners like Mr and Mrs John and Paul Frampton has been a real pleasure during my riding career so far.

Right, that’s me for now, I’ll have another update next week. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it.

- Harry

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