Jockey Nick Scholfield all set for the Grand National
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He rides the favourite in the Crabbie’s Grand National this Saturday, April 5th but 24-year-old Nick Scholfield – one of the finest young jump jockeys in the land – is not feeling a shred of pressure. Scholfield and Teaforthree finished third in the Aintree marathon 12 months ago, and the Devon-born rider cannot wait to renew his partnership with the Rebecca Curtis-trained chaser.
“When you get horses like him to ride it fills you with confidence,” Scholfield tells Channel 4 Racing. “You’re the chosen one, they could have any number of jockeys, it’s a privileged position to be in and I’m very lucky they’ve kept me on him for this year’s race.
“He gave me a superb ride last year and we’ve got a bit less weight this time. It’s a different looking field this year and hopefully he can put up another good show of jumping and give punters a good run for their money.”
That weight differential compared to 12 months ago – Teaforthree carries five pounds less even though Scholfield believes he is a better horse this time around – is an aspect the jockey keeps coming back to when assessing his chances.
That goes some way to explaining his position at the head of the market, and this year he has had three contrasting runs. Teaforthree was ninth in the Welsh National after racing prominently throughout; he lost out to Restless Harry in a thrilling duel at Ascot and gave another encouraging show in the Cheltenham Gold Cup before ultimately fading and finishing eighth.
Scholfield continues: “He’s got ticks in all the right boxes and I’m very, very excited. He ran a tremendous race in the Gold Cup, where he travelled and jumped well and was in with a shout two fences out. He wasn’t that far away jumping the last. I looked after him from there on and I’m sure that would have brought him on nicely. He had two good runs at Ascot and is a horse that thrives from his racing. I don’t think the Gold Cup took too much out of him. He wasn’t exhausted after the race and we go to Aintree full of confidence. A few horses have come out of the Gold Cup and done well in the National in the past. I’m not worried about that race leaving its mark.
“He was the only horse to finish in the first 11 above 11 stone last year so that was a good performance in itself. He’s a very easy ride, we won’t have too many fixed plans, and you never can in the Grand National.”
At 10, Teaforthree is the ideal age to take the famous old race. You have to go back to 2004 to find the last winner who was older than 11 and this may be his best chance. For much of last year’s race, there looked no more likely winner than him, although when asked if he thought the race was won at any point, Scholfield issues a non-committal “maybe”.
Then he adds: “Three [fences] out I could see the other horse turning in and [winner] Auroras Encore was right behind us. My horse slightly missed the last which wouldn’t have been a help. But he was only half a length off second, and that’s good form. The winner’s not in the race this year, the second [Cappa Bleu] isn’t in it, so we’re the best coming out of last year’s race, and Rebecca’s horses are in tremendous form.”
Last week Scholfield visited Curtis’s establishment in west Wales for a final canter on Teaforthree, before riding for various other trainers between now and the big day on Saturday. He is proud to have ridden 66 winners in 2012-13, a total he’s in good shape to pass this term, and while he finds it hard to pinpoint a career highlight to date, he describes his 2012 Cheltenham Festival win on Hunt Ball as “a day I’ll never forget”.
He was only 18 when first riding in the Grand National, when he got the rank outsider Cornish Sett round in 12th place. “I was the youngest jockey in the race and he gave me a super ride. I think I was actually the only English jockey to complete the course that year – all the others were Irish - so it was good, very good. Cornish Sett was a good old character. I had a bit of success on him and I owe that horse a lot - he gave me bundles of experience on and off the track.”
As a young teenage amateur, and then conditional, Scholfield was helped in the early days by father Philip, a former champion point-to-point jockey. “He would come up and walk the course with me which was great. He always watched all the previous races and did a lot of the homework for me. It was a childhood dream realised just to be riding in the race so now to be able to ride the favourite… well, it’s what every jockey sets out to do and hopefully we can make the most of it.”
Thousands of once-a-year punters with betting slips carrying the name Teaforthree on them will hope Scholfield can do a bit more than “make the most of it” – but the jockey’s relaxed, focused approach on the job in hand is a good sign in itself.
Watch documentary How To Win The Grand National (focusing on Teaforthree), on 3 April, Channel 4, at 11.05pm