STRAIGHT A’s and schoolwork were never Harry Cobden’s thing.
From an early age it was clear the racing game was where the heart lay.
A 16-year-old Cobden even skipped his English GCSE exam for one 33-1 ride at Leicester.
Luckily, it won. And his dad had twenty quid on for good measure.
Now just six years later, Cobden is second in the jockey’s championship and set to partner hot favourite Politologue in today’s Grade 1 Clarence House Chase at Ascot.
From riding ponies at the age of 9, Cobden, now 22, is stable jockey to 11-time champion trainer Paul Nicholls.
That job has been held by the likes of Ruby Walsh and Sam Twiston-Davies in recent years but one man always believed Cobden was cut out for the top.
Somerset trainer Ron Hodges gave Cobden the leg up in his first race ride and helped him buy his first racing pony.
Hodges, 80, knew Cobden’s grandparents and was introduced to a fresh-faced youngster outside a pub one afternoon.
Hodges laughed: “Harry was introduced to me when we were eating lunch at a pub one time.
“He said he wanted to ride and had a hunting pony that he said was the quickest there was in the area.
“I smiled and went with it but did try and warn him that he’d be tailed off last if he took this fat little thing into a proper pony race.
“So lo-and-behold that’s what happened the first time he raced it properly. He had the right hump.
“He wasn’t happy about it and we had to go and get him a new one right away. We drove miles to get a better one for him.
“From then on I think he only lost about two races from thirty-odd.
“He was always just that bit better than the other kids, you just knew he had it.”
Cobden would learn the ropes at Hodge’s yard while sticking it out at school.
From mucking out and helping around the yard, Cobden quickly started riding out on the gallops as young as ten.
A post shared by Harry Cobden (@harrycobden)
A post shared by Harry Cobden (@harrycobden)
The schoolwork might have suffered, but there was no way it was going to be any different.
Hodges added: “He was a really good lad to have around, and I’m not just saying that. He worked hard.
“It’s not surprised me where he’s got to. We keep a close eye on him still now and he’ll often ring most days.
“There aren’t many of his races we miss and I’ll definitely be watching him on Politologue.
“Paul [Nicholls] was a big help with him early on too and took him under his wing when he was about 16.
“Harry always loved his horses that was clear and he’s always had his head screwed on too.”
Cobden may have left school with only a handful of GCSEs, but not many 22-year-olds have acres of farmland and a shoot to their name.
A son of two farmers, Cobden owns over 13 acres of farmland and employs two full-time gamekeepers to run a shooting business.
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But none of this was handed to Cobden on a plate. He invested the money he earned from his first Grade 1 win on Irving in 2016, as well his champion conditional title at the end of that season.
For good measure, the next campaign he notched his second Grade 1 winner on Politologue in Tingle Creek. That probably bought another acre or two.
But Cobden also spent a crucial part of his early career with trainer Anthony Honeyball.
Honeyball, now a top trainer in his own right, helped Cobden to become the leading novice in the point-to-point world as a teenager.
Word was out and soon Nicholls invited Cobden to ride more regularly at his famous Ditcheat stables, just ten minutes from Cobden’s family home.
Nicholls said: “We had Harry in from when he was about 13 on and off.
“It was always going to work out to be honest as long as he kept improving and learning which is what he did.
“He’s from the local area, we knew him from the pony racing circuit as he rode against Megan [Paul’s daughter] and the Barber family are close too.
“I love giving young people a chance and he rode his first winner for us when he was 16 at Wincanton and soon had a couple of Cheltenham winners.
“We then knew he’d been offered a job by Colin Tizzard and so we had to act.
“It’s not like football where we can let him go for a couple of years and then get him back in on a transfer. That’s what we would have done in an ideal world.
“But Sam Twiston-Davies had a good job with his dad and it all worked out in the end.
“In an ideal world we would have let Harry develop for a year or two more but our hand was forced a bit but it’s gone well.”
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing for Cobden. A fractured neck suffered in a fall at Market Rasen would knock a lot of 18-year-olds’ confidence.
Then came the 2019 King George where Cobden picked Cyrname over eventual winner Clan Des Obeaux.
But Nicholls reckons it’s these sticky patches which have made Cobden the rider he is now.
He added: “I think what makes him so good is how quickly he learns from these things, and at his age too.
“Even when Ruby was here it was a nightmare picking between the horses in these Grade 1s believe me. So it’s not an easy job for him but he copes with it very well.
“And on top of that he’s very popular with the team here and in the local area which is a big plus you know.”
Early this season Cobden was keen to challenge for the jockeys championship and currently sits in second on 79 winners behind defending champion Brian Hughes.
While Hughes looks in a commanding position, Cobden is picking up more rides from the Tizzard stable and once again has a stellar book of Saturday rides.
Politologue gave Cobden one of his early career highs when winning the 2017 Tingle Creek and with Harry Skelton needed to ride for his brother Dan in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham, Cobden is to be reunited with his favourite grey this afternoon.
Nicholls added: “Harry knows the horse brilliantly, he’s ridden him plenty of times.
“It’s another big chance for him to get a Grade 1 and we know it’s a tough race but I couldn’t be happier with how we have him.”
If Politologue comes out on top at Ascot it’ll be a tenth Grade 1 for Cobden at the age of 22.
Who needs those GCSEs, hey?
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