There are moments in time that stick with you. Backing your first winner, the first time you set eyes on your loved one, the birth of your first born. Possibly not in that order.
Peter Scudamore remembers his first mobile phone 35 years ago. He knows this thanks to a call from John Edwards, the former trainer who saddled 10 Cheltenham Festival winners, as well as employing Venetia Williams as his long-time assistant.
Back in 1987, then 28-year-old Scudamore was establishing himself as successor to John Francome and was in the midst of securing the third of his eight champion jump jockey titles when Edwards called, offering the ride on Pearlyman.
The bay had won the Grand Annual Chase at the Festival the previous year under Graham Bradley.
However, he was not the most reliable conveyance and had unseated Paul Barton at Wetherby, then had jumped poorly at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day when last of six to Townley Stone.
“I have a very strong memory of it,” said Scudamore. “The difference between today’s racing and racing of that era, was that we didn’t have the TV racing channels or internet. It was very hard to see the form, you could only see the entries in the Sporting Life.”
Scudamore had his doubts when offered the ride for Pearlyman’s next outing in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury in February 1987.
“We could look up his chase form and he’d won at Cheltenham the year before in the Grand Annual, but you never know how good that form is.
“Our ability to understand the form wasn’t as great as it is now. Nowadays, every jockey would have already seen a video of a horse or view when he won a point-to-point in Ireland, so I didn’t know Pearlyman, other than he was not the greatest jumper.
“I rode a lot for John. I rode Pearlyman for the first time in the Game Spirit at Newbury and I didn’t give him a ride. I dropped him out last and was looking after myself.
“And by the time I came to the second-last, I couldn’t hold him any more. That was the way to ride him, but it was just pure luck. I had schooled him round but had looked after myself.”
Under top weight, the white-faced Pearlyman came home a ready winner from Townley Stone and Little Bay, with Timeform describing the performance as the best in a two-mile handicap chase in the past few seasons.
“I won on him in the race at Newbury and I’d just got a mobile phone,” remembers Scudamore. “That was a luxury in those days, rather than the necessity it is now.
“I’d got my ride on him when John made one of the first calls on that mobile phone and then someone from the press rang me and said the highlight of the Cheltenham Festival meeting was going to be Desert Orchid, Pearlyman and Very Promising in the two-mile Champion Chase.
“I said, ‘Is it?’ – it didn’t have the build-up that it has today.”
Scudamore is a modest, genial and self-effacing man. Though he suggests that it was more by luck than judgement that he found the key to the then eight-year-old, Pearlyman became a more mature and confident horse with the champion aboard.
“I rode him the same way in the Champion Chase,” he added. “I dropped him in. When people ask about riding good horses, you actually feel you are going slower on them.
“I got to the top of the hill and he was so relaxed and going so easily that I sort of squeezed him to feel how he was going, and he came straight onto the bridle and was trying to run away with me.
“I could not believe you can ride in a two-mile Champion Chase and go that easily.
“AP (McCoy) always said he loved the speed of the Champion Chase and always wanted to win one (he did with Edredon Bleu in 2000).
“But riding Pearlyman was like riding in a six-mile chase, because everything else was going at 100 miles an hour and he was just lolloping along, just cruising.”
The 13-8 favourite did not jump either of the last two fences particularly fluently, and the Richard Dunwoody-ridden Very Promising had momentum over the final fence, but Pearlyman stayed on up the hill to win in a photo, with ‘Dessie’ not far away in third.
“I don’t think the two-mile Champion Chase carried the kudos in those days like it does now,” said Scudamore. “The history has picked up, but at the time it didn’t feel like that.
“There were three days of the Festival and the Champion Chase was buried on the card. It was not promoted as the highlight of the day.
“But as you look back, I think the beauty of being lucky enough to ride 200 winners in a season and do things like that – at the time they were not highlighted – but they embellish as time goes on, which is a better feeling than you have at the time and then it all subsides. The achievements get better as time goes by.
“It helps that the horses come back year on year in the Champion Chase. The public gets to know them.
“The best races at Cheltenham over the past few years have contained the likes of Moscow Flyer, Master Minded, Sprinter Sacre and Altior – they have been enjoyed by the Cheltenham crowd more than anything. And therefore Pearlyman can hang on to their coat-tails.”
Pearlyman went on to win the Champion Chase again the following season with Tom Morgan aboard. Scudamore lost the ride when electing to partner Convinced for Martin Pipe in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, rather than go to Wetherby and ride Pearlyman in the Castleford Chase on the same day.
“I knew I couldn’t hang my career on one horse and Martin always stood by me. When I was hurt he didn’t run horses, he would bring them back for me to ride,” said Scudamore.
“The Pearlyman people were behind me, but Tom was John’s jockey and he wanted him and, quite rightly, Tom got the job, so I didn’t keep the ride.”
While he is now enjoying life as an assistant trainer to partner Lucinda Russell and has a talented young star on his hands in Ahoy Senor, Scudamore feels the current crop of equine talent will be seen in an equally favourable light as time goes by.
“I think we look back with fondness. We herald what Michael Dickinson did in that era, saddling the first five home in the Gold Cup in 1983, yet when you look at what Henry De Bromhead did last year – winning the Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase, and saddling the first two home in the Gold Cup, not to mention sending out the winner of the Grand National – that was quite extraordinary.
“So, I think we will look back at the Douvans and Shishkins like we do now about the Pearlymans and Very Promisings.
“I do like it, very much, that people look back and say it was a golden era, but that’s what is great about history. It embroiders it in a rich fabric and we need it.
“Without that, without the fondness of those memories, the next generation won’t come along and follow the sport.”
While some races have grown in stature, some may be losing their lustre. The Champion Hurdle is cited as a prime example.
“The Champion Hurdle, for whatever reason, is not the race it was when Istabraq was winning it 20 years ago,” Scudamore argued.
“This filly, Honeysuckle, who is absolutely marvellous, I think she needs a worthy opponent for her to fit into our hearts.
“I always say the reason Jimmy Connors was adored or not hated was because of Bjorn Borg. I was lucky to take on Francome or Dunwoody – and those are the great battles.
“We do go on about the best, but it is the great battles we want to see. She needs something to have a great battle with and she is one of my favourite racehorses of all time.
“What she has done, with Rachael Blackmore riding her, has been quite fabulous.
“If Appreciate It turns out to be a really good horse and Epatante comes back, that would be good if she has a great battle.”
Yet the Champion Chase will deservedly receive top billing at the 2022 Festival, especially since it is round two of the clash between the Willie Mullins-trained Energumene and Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin, following their epic first meeting in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January.
“I am really looking forward to that,” added Scudamore.
“Energumene was beaten around Ascot, but he is so close to Shishkin – there is nothing in it.
“Should Chacun Pour Soi come over, and being held in such high esteem, you have to respect him as well.
“I can’t say who will win. They are all marvellous horses. I adore Shishkin, so while you should take emotion out of it, my heart says I’d love to see the filly win the Champion Hurdle and Shishkin win the two-mile Champion Chase, away from Ahoy Senor winning things. I think they are magnificent horses.”
Hopefully ones that, in time, will also etch their names into jump racing’s glorious tapestry along with those of Pearlyman, Very Promising and Desert Orchid in a golden era.