Perfect timing of Scudamore parting
THERE was a fairytale ending to champion jump jockey Peter Scudamore's long and successful career when Sweet Duke, his last ride, won the Alpine Meadow Handicap Hurdle at Ascot, amid the tears and cheers of well-wishers.
It was all very different, and a welcome change from the Grand National fiasco at Aintree the previous Saturday. The smooth execution of the Scudamore retirement went a long way to restoring a little pride to the tens of thousands of dejected National Hunt fans throughout the country. Scudamore, 34, has always been famous for his judgement and timing, and after announcing the end of his career on Wednesday morning - it shocked the racing world - he went out to register his 1,678th winner, giving him a total almost 300 more than the great John Francome.
''The reason I am retiring is that I want to get out at the top in one piece. Two recent occurrences convinced me that I should get out,'' Scudamore said quite candidly.
''Recently, I went to Southwell and I didn't enjoy it at all. Then, at Uttoxeter, I rode a horse for Oliver Sherwood, and looking at the ride, in retrospect, I felt that I wasn't as brave as I should have been,'' said Scudamore.
Typical Scudamore. His honesty and critical self-examination have been unique features of his make-up for many years. Not even eight jockeys' titles, the last seven in succession, have taken that away.
His father Michael Scudamore won the Gold Cup and Grand National, while his godfather Pat Taaffe rode Arkle, the greatest steeplechaser ever to look through a bridle.
So, from a very early age, Scudamore dreamed of nothing else but being a jump jockey, and once he started his appetite for success was insatiable.
He went on pass the impressive totals of Stan Mellor and Francome in the most hazardous and demanding of sports.
Francome enjoyed the reputation as the greatest jockey of his time, and it was not until he retired in 1985 that Scudamore took over at the top.
But no jockey has raised the profile of the National Hunt rider to the level that Scudamore has, and no other has been more responsible for taking jump racing into the average British household.
One Scudamore record that is likely to stand for some time is his 221 winners in a single season. And will there ever be another jump jockey who breaks his leg mid-season and comes back after two months to claim the title? Unlikey.
Zafonic, the much-hyped ante-post favourite for the 2,000 Guineas, fell from grace when narrowly beaten on his seasonal debut in the Prix Djebel, an inconclusive Classic trial, at Maisons-Laffitte, near Paris.
But although the colt was eased to 2-1 favourite from 4-5 by Ladbrokes, the holding ground was definitely a factor in his short-head defeat by Kingmambo, who incidentally is the first progeny of the former champion miler Miesque.
There was obvious disappointment all round when Zafonic was just touched off in a three-way photo, with his pacemaker Kashani only a short-head behind him. Astair, the remaining runner, finished eight lengths adrift.
The fact that Zafonic was sent off the 1-10 ON favourite was indicative of expectations.
As a trial, it was hard to read a great deal into the race. Pacemaker Kashani led by five lengths at one stage, with Zafonic pulling very hard for Pat Eddery.
There were excuses galore for Zafonic - the stop-start tactics of the pacemaker were mentioned - but yet again the hype merchants have been left with egg dripping from their faces.
It is too soon to write off Zafonic. On top of the ground, when his explosive turn-of-foot can be put to use, he will be a different proposition. But there are still doubts about whether he is the wonder horse some pundits would like us all to believe.