Tom Scudamore aiming to add to family folklore with poignant success

Ever since his boss, Fred Pontin, won the Grand National in 1971, Trevor Hemmings had been obsessed by winning the most quintessential of English horse races.

The billionaire businessman realised his ambitions three times; with Hedgehunter (2005), Ballabriggs (2011) and Many Clouds (2015).

Hemmings, who died at the age of 86 in October, owned Cloth Cap, who was named after his signatory headwear.

So there will be no more poignant winner should the Jonjo O’Neill-trained 10-year-old land the four-and-a-quarter-mile-marathon at Aintree.

For his jockey, Tom Scudamore, whose family name runs through Grand National history like a golden thread, it is a case of unfinished business in more ways than one.

Tom is a rider uniquely placed to understand the significance of this race as well as its heritage and tradition, thanks to the exploits of his father and grandfather.

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His late grandfather Michael won the National on Oxo in 1959 and rode in a record 16 consecutive Nationals, until Richard Johnson claimed that notable achievement.

Tom’s father, Peter, was an eight-time champion jockey with numerous big-race success – but the Grand National was one race that remained out of reach.

In 12 Nationals, he never finished closer than third on Corbiere in 1985 and in a cruel twist, retired the year before his regular partner Miinnehoma won the race for his old boss, Martin Pipe.

Yet on his retirement from the saddle, Peter teamed up with his father and bought a bay gelding named Earth Summit. That horse was later sold and trained by Nigel-Twiston Davies, to whom Peter acted as assistant trainer and business partner.

Earth Summit went on to win the Scottish and Welsh Nationals as well as the Peter Marsh Chase before triumphing by 11 lengths in the 1998 Grand National.

It was something of a revelation to a teenage Tom Scudamore.

“That was a tremendous buzz,” he said. “I was 13 or 14 and the party seemed to go on for about six weeks – it was a very memorable time and it just brought home how important the National was, to us all and to the local area (Naunton, Gloucestershire).

“The pride people got out of the Grand National win locally was fabulous. The pubs and the whole place was heaving for about the next 48 hours. You couldn’t move – and I’m not sure many people did!

“You want to be involved in all the big races, but the National is our jewel. The Grand National and the Gold Cup are wonderful races to be part of. They are part of our heritage.”

Earth Summit and Carl Llewellyn won the National in 1998
Earth Summit and Carl Llewellyn won the National in 1998 (John Giles/PA)

Peter, who repeated the trick with Twiston-Davies in 2002 with Bindaree, then enjoyed further success in the race in 2017 with One For Arthur, trained by his partner Lucinda Russell whom he assists at their Scottish base.

Tom will be riding in his 20th National, and while his best finish is sixth place with Vieux Lion Rouge in 2017, he feels luck is as important as experience.

“Northern Starlight was my first ride, as an amateur – that is going back a bit now – and that was pretty exciting,” he said.

“I was 18 and fell at Becher’s the first time. I was gutted at the time and absolutely distraught. Then I got in the ambulance and we had to pick up a load more people at the Canal Turn, so it then dawned on me that I was not going to get very far anyway. All the people I was around, whom I’d jumped upsides, all got wiped out at the Canal Turn.

“So, as it happened, it just saved me a bit more of a kicking.

Vieux Lion Rouge (left) gave Tom Scudamore valuable Aintree experience
Vieux Lion Rouge (left) gave Tom Scudamore valuable Aintree experience (David Davies/PA)

“As for Vieux Lion Rouge, he didn’t stay, unfortunately. He got me to the Melling Road, to the third-last and second-last but it stretched him a little bit from there. He was a fabulous horse to ride around there, coming back year after year. He knew his way around. And I learned plenty off him.”

Cloth Cap was the hot favourite for his first attempt over the iconic fences last year and was pulled up before three out. Not that anyone was there to see it, as the Covid pandemic meant the race was run behind closed doors.

“It was obviously a bit of an odd experience last year, but once you are up and racing, you can’t really tell the difference,” he added.

“The build-up to the race was definitely quite strange – going out to empty stands was a bit odd, as normally you’d know the atmosphere would be electric.

Cloth Cap bids to give Jonjo O’Neill a second National success
Cloth Cap bids to give Jonjo O’Neill a second National success (Adam Davy/PA)

“Now it is great to see everybody back and it does make a difference – it was nice at Cheltenham to see all the crowds returning. We have missed it all and certainly Ladies Day on the Friday at Aintree will be back to how it should be.

“Last year, I had a great ride round for a long way until Cloth Cap’s wind kicked in, unfortunately. Hopefully, that has been rectified (with an operation) – it seems to have been.

“He is a little bit higher in the weights than he was last year but has been reassessed since his Kelso win last year, so we have gone back down a bit. We were a stone well-in last year but it didn’t work out and we are only a few pounds higher this time.

“He ran a great race in the Grimthorpe at Doncaster (when third) last time on ground that would have been horrible and tacky enough for him.

“I was really pleased with the way he ran there and he’s been running consistently well this year. I thought he went really well for a long way in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase (formerly the Hennessey Gold Cup) at Newbury before the weight told.

Tom's grandfather, Michael Scudamore, winning the National in 1959 aboard Oxo
Tom’s grandfather, Michael Scudamore, winning the National in 1959 aboard Oxo (PA)

“He likes Aintree, he has jumped well round there before and the more the rain stays away the better.”

While acknowledging the course modifications have made life easier for horse and rider, he makes no bones about what emulating his grandfather would mean to his own career accomplishments.

“It would be the pinnacle,” he admitted. “Growing up, it was always the race to win and that has not changed.

“Dad was a champion jockey and I thought he was a superhero growing up. But whenever we would be in a crowd at an event, all people asked him was if he’d won the National.

“My grandfather had, so every time he was there, people would swarm around him. They weren’t interested in all dad’s incredible achievements.

“The reason being the National is the one race that is in the public’s consciousness, the one race all jockeys want to win. That will always be the case.”

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