Nick Scholfield Inspired by First Cheltenham Festival Success
Since riding his first winner in an amateurs’ race at Newbury in 2006, Nick Scholfield has established himself as one of Jump racing’s brightest young talents and already has three high-profile rides to look forward to at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival.
The 23-year-old has enjoyed big-race success on Taranis in the 2010 Argento Chase and also landed valuable handicaps on Border Castle, Cornish Sett, Natal and New Little Bric, but came of age when steering Hunt Ball to a facile eight-length demolition of his rivals in last season’s Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Handicap Chase at The Festival.
Reflecting on his first Festival triumph, Scholfield said: “It was a big turning point for me to get my first Cheltenham Festival success out of the way.
“The feeling of winning is every bit as good as everyone says it is. The Cheltenham Festival is the highlight of the season and to get your name on the winners’ board means everything.
“It’s every jockey’s dream. I was lucky enough to ride at previous Festivals and it makes you realise how fierce the competition is and how hard it is to bag that winner.”
Hunt Ball, owned by dairy farmer Anthony Knott and trained by former jockey Keiran Burke, who was in his first season training, started last season with a rating of 69 but, after stringing together six wins from seven starts, he went to Cheltenham with a rating of 142.
As a result of this momentous 73lb rise in the handicap, Hunt Ball carried 12 stone in the Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Handicap Chase but his pilot’s confidence never waned and, after settling his mount behind the leaders, the pair stormed clear up the famous Cheltenham hill.
“Obviously, the racing at Cheltenham is very competitive and you need a lot of luck in running around there but everything went as I hoped,” revealed Scholfield. “I knew Hunt Ball was my best chance of the week. I really felt he could be the one to get me that first winner and he duly obliged.
“It was a rags to riches story and we had a good public following so it was great to win. It takes a while to sink in but you do get a fantastic buzz out of it.”
The jockey has continued in fine form this season, securing his first Grade One on Melodic Rendezvous in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown Park (January 5) and surpassing his previous best tally of winners before Christmas.
“This has been my best season so far and I’m sure that was helped by having a high-profile winner at the Cheltenham Festival,” he added.
Scholfield, whose father Philip was British champion point-to-point rider in 1988/89, already has three high-profile rides to look forward to at this year’s Festival headed by Melodic Rendezvous.
The seven-year-old was among the best bumper horses around last season and, after a narrow reverse on his hurdling debut at Exeter, he scored decisively at Cheltenham in December on route to an impressive four and a half length victory in the Tolworth Hurdle.
“Melodic Rendezvous gave me my first Grade One win at Sandown - that was another special day - and I am very much looking forward to riding him in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle,” admitted Scholfield.
“He shows me plenty of speed and has won over the course and distance so that is very much the race we will be looking at.
“He is going to run at Exeter on Sunday (February 10) and that will be a stepping stone to Cheltenham. He won’t be fully wound up for the race but hopefully it will set him up nicely.
“He has coped with soft and heavy ground well and we wouldn’t be worried if it came up like that at The Festival, but if the ground is better, that wouldn’t be a problem either because we have always thought he wanted nicer ground.”
Empiracle, a strapping son of 2003 Epsom Derby hero Kris Kin who is also trained by Jeremy Scott, was not extended to win a competitive bumper at Huntingdon in October and is being lined up for a tilt at the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.
“Empiracle’s form is probably nowhere near good enough but he shows us a lot at home and Jeremy has educated him well,” continued Scholfield.
“I shouldn’t think only having one run will be a problem and he has some new owners so it will be nice for them to enjoy The Festival experience and go there with a good chance.
“He is more of a staying type than Melodic Rendezvous. He is a lovely horse to look at and should make a lovely chaser in time.”
Hunt Ball has been pitched into Graded races this term but has not been disgraced with placed efforts in the rearranged Grade Two Peterborough Chase at Kempton Park over Christmas and the Grade Two Argento Chase at Cheltenham on January 26.
His colourful owner had long harboured Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup ambitions but recently revealed the dream is over and with it plenty of long-priced ante-post wagers.
The Byrne Group Plate Handicap Chase, run over two miles and five furlongs on St Patrick’s Thursday, March 14, is now Hunt Ball’s preferred Festival option.
“Hunt Ball will be running of 157 in the Bryne Group Plate which is a very high mark and it will be difficult to give that amount of weight away, but he didn’t seem stay in the Argento and the Ryanair looks very competitive,” conceded Scholfield.
“Hopefully, the touch of class he has will count for a lot in a handicap and he carried 12 stone up the hill last year and the weight wasn’t stopping him then.
“I think he is very good at that trip - obviously, he won over the course and distance last year - and let’s hope he can defy the weight and bag another win.”
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