Racing: Air win helps Scudamore to confirm own identity

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It may well prove that two rides at Sandown since Christmas have prised open fresh possibilities in the career of Tom Scudamore. If so, it seems appropriate that in neither case was his name listed on the racecard.

He picked up the mount on Monkerhostin, second in the King George VI Chase, only after Richard Johnson took a fall earlier in the afternoon. And a thicket of red tape had to be untangled before Scudamore could be confirmed for Desert Air, winner of a £100,000 handicap hurdle last Saturday. Even as he passed the post, the course commentator still acclaimed the jockey punching the air as Christian Williams.

From the very beginning, establishing his own identity has been the abiding challenge for Scudamore, whose father, Peter, was champion jockey eight times and grandfather, Michael, won the 1959 Grand National on Oxo. Still a teenager when he became champion amateur, Scudamore seemed to borrow an air of destiny from his surname. But he always recognised that it might prove a mixed blessing; that there would be an accompanying burden of expectation.

"It has been the same all along," he shrugged yesterday. "In the showjumping ring aged 12, it was the same: 'that's Peter Scudamore's son'. You just have to prove yourself the same as everyone else.

"I am sure it opened a few doors, and maybe shut one or two as well. It has been great to have that kind of coach at home. But all credit to mum and dad, I was never pushed. There is a lot you have to learn for yourself. Remember, as often as I saw him champion jockey, I visited him in hospital, split open by a fall or with his leg in plaster."

Certainly Scudamore has never been immune to the capricious fortune that governs his vocation. Having conjured a career-best from Monkerhostin, for instance, any hope that he might retain the limelight was suppressed on his very next ride, by an equine head-butt going to post at Taunton. On a murky afternoon back at the same venue yesterday, Scudamore remained exasperated by the cumbersome procedure by which he finally obtained clearance to partner Desert Air - a saga of postal delays and unobtainable officials.

"Everyone accepts that jockeys should ride only when fit," Scudamore said. "In grandad's day, they would ride with concussion, and obviously nobody wants to see that happen now. But it's all about trust, and there are times when the system is causing riders to let down trainers unnecessarily.

"Desert Air could turn out to be a career-defining opportunity, yet I nearly missed the ride because of bureaucracy and misadministration. As it was, we kicked up a fuss and got a few mountains moved. But a lot of the lads feel that we are being treated with a certain arrogance, and it's causing resentment."

But his celebrations on Saturday were expressive of a different kind of relief, too. Scudamore senses that he had reached something of a plateau, that contemporaries such as Paddy Brennan, Jamie Moore and Sam Thomas were somehow being favoured for their youth.

"It was really sweet, Saturday," he said. "Having been second on Boxing Day, and in a few big races last season as well, I was beginning to wonder when the breakthrough might come. Every jockey needs a horse that takes him on to the next level - the way Paddy had Ashley Brook last season, or Dad had Broadsword.

"It's like the third round of the FA Cup. If you play in division one, it's your chance to show what you can do against Premiership opposition. Plenty of very good riders never get that chance, so it is vital to take it when you do."

So vital, in fact, that you could see Scudamore suddenly abandon all caution halfway up the run-in on Monkerhostin. He was duly given a suspension for his use of the whip, but could comfort himself that his mount had surpassed all previous accomplishments.

"He settled and jumped so well over the first two that I could tell he was going to run a big race," he said. "And when a horse at those odds runs so well in a race like that, you just feel you belong, as it were - that perhaps you are doing something right."

Scudamore already reflects well on his clan as an open young man, intelligent and innocent of airs, and he warrants respect as a blossoming rider, too. After all, he is still only 23.

"I like to think that I would be embarrassed by videos from even six months ago," he said. "Just little things, but I hope I'm improving all the time. I am a lot calmer nowadays, I don't push them too hard, make them do to much.

Maybe I did have a head start on some riders, and maybe I have been overtaken by a few since - but I would like to think I can find my way back past them now."

Chris McGrath

Nap: Harry Up (Southwell 2.50)

NB: Weapons Inspector

(Sedgefield 2.10)