Harry Cobden - the Somerset farmer’s son turned professional jockey
PUBLISHED: 10:19 09 March 2020 | UPDATED: 10:19 09 March 2020
Somerset jockey and young farmer Harry Cobden tells PIPPA VILE what it is like to be one of the rising stars of the racing world
Known as a cool, calm competitor on the racetrack at just 21 years old this quiet, ambitious young man admits to never getting nervous before a race; not even for the Gold Cup. It is easy to see why he has risen the ranks so quickly. Always looking for an opportunity and with a good business brain, Harry is sure to go far both on and off the track.
A typical farmer's son, Harry grew up surrounded by animals; cattle, sheep, dogs and of course horses. He first started riding at just two and a half and by nine years was old was already racing ponies, having been taken under the wing of local racing trainer Ron Hodges.
"Ron was a friend of my grandparents and encouraged me to get into racing, he even helped me buy my first proper racing pony after I had had enough of coming last on my little fat hunting pony!" explains Harry.
As soon as Harry started racing, he was hooked. "I loved the speed and winning, I have always been very competitive." At school Harry was a good sportsman, enjoying rugby, running and badminton.
Like most boys that ride it was not the grooming and mucking out that Harry relished but the speed and competitive nature of racing. To pay back Ron's kindness and support, Harry started helping out with the yard duties from the age of 11. Any spare moment he had he was there, mucking out, training his ponies and learning everything he could from the visiting jockeys, including Mick Fitzgerald, a regularly at the yard.
Not a keen scholar, Harry left school on his 16th birthday without having taken a single GCSE. "My mum flipped her lid" he recalls, "she called me on the day of my English GCSE to make sure I was going, but I was already on my way to Leicester Racecourse to ride a 33-1 winner in a Hunter Chase for Anthony Honeyball - I never went back!"
Following a season working for Anthony, Harry was offered a job at Paul Nicholls' yard as a conditional jockey, a great opportunity for this ambitious amateur jockey. Out to impress, Harry would turn up early, work hard and keep his head down, not going to the pub with other jockeys. Harry was focused on his career. After turning professional at 18 years old, Harry was offered the first jockey position at Paul's yard.
"It was a big decision at the time as I was also riding a lot of winners for Colin Tizzard, a neighbouring trainer. After taking my time to think about it, I accepted the job and haven't looked back. I have the best of both worlds, as when I haven't got a ride for Paul, I am able to ride for Colin, I am very fortunate."
Things haven't always gone Harry's way though. In June 2018 he had a bad fall and broke his neck. Having three months off was not ideal but at least it was during the off season for National Hunt racing. Back in the saddle again by the end of September, just before the big meeting in Chepstow, Harry had 14 rides in two days, so he soon got back into the swing of things. He went on to ride more than 100 winners for the first time in the 2018-2019 season, which was an incredible result considering the delayed start to his season.
Harry says: "I would like to clock up 100 winners again this season and add a couple more Grade 1 wins if I can."
Riding between 500-600 races a year Harry is certainly busy on the track. When not riding horses, Harry loves to be on the farm, helping his parents Will and Sarah and brother James. He set up his own shooting venture, Marsh Sporting, in 2019, in which his dad and brother are involved and it is clear that it is important to Harry to have his family around him. He credits his mum, as well as family friend Ron, who he still speaks to everyday, with starting off his now extremely successful racing career.
"Although mum would have liked me to have finished school, I think she is proud of what I am doing now" he adds, and who wouldn't be.
HARRY'S FACTS AND FIGURES
(as at 24 October)
Ridden: 1,538 races
Won: 304 races
Height: 5ft 11
Weight: 10 stone
Interests: Farming and shooting - anything outdoors
Pets: Five dogs
Favourite Horse: Politologue - 'he is such a lovely kind, genuine horse'