An Interview with National Hunt Jockey Nick Scholfield
Whilst growing up in the little Devonshire village of Winkleigh, Nick Scholfield’s riding career could have gone in either direction of racing or showjumping but the latter prevailed. A self-professed ‘form geek’ as a boy, racing was aways going to win!
Nick downplays the impact of his childhood successes in the saddle in becoming the top jockey he is today. Showing taught him all about riding many different ponies in a competitive environment and under pressure – after all, when he was fifteen, he rode at Horse of the Year Show on Chiddick Over The Limit. After that, showjumping taught Nick to see a stride.
Nick winning the 2021 Grand Annual on Sky Pirate
During the learning curve of point-to-pointing, Nick rode his first winner in April 2006 on Sea Snipe; a horse who Nick won on ten times before joining Paul Nicholls. He rode his first winner under Rules on Lou Du Molin Mas in a three-mile amateur riders’ chase at Newbury and was subsequently associated with, amongst others, Cornish Sett, Taranis, Adrien Du Pont and San Benedeto. He had an especially successful partnership with Irving with seven wins including Grade 1s and Grade 2s, such as the Fighting Fifth and Dovecote in 2014 and the Elite Hurdle in 2015. He also won an Old Roan Chase on Sound Investment 2015.
How it began...in the show ring
Nick also tallied up seven wins on Melodic Rendezvous for Jeremy Scott, including the 2013 Tolworth and 2014 Champion Hurdle Trial. He was also part of the rags to riches tale of the chaser Hunt Ball, who’d previously won a maiden and restricted between the Flags but went on to win seven of his first eight races under Rules for trainer Kieran Burke. In three of these victories, Hunt Ball was ridden by Nick, including twice round Wincanton and a Listed Novices’ Chase at the 2012 Cheltenham Festival; more famous were the rambunctious, outlandish celebrations of owner Anthony Knott.
Three years later, Nick tasted Festival glory again when winning the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle on Qualando for his then governor, Paul Nicholls. His latest was a bold and positive ride on Sky Pirate in the 2021 Grand Annual.
Last season, Nick returned from a nasty ankle injury to win the Betfair Hurdle (pictured below) from the front on Aucunrisque for Chris Gordon – no one could catch them.
How's it going...
Nick, 34, lives in Somerton in Somerset, and has a girlfriend Hannah Bevan and a miniature Dachshund. Over the past few seasons, he has continued to ride at the top of his game; undeterred by injuries, he has determinedly clocked up many winners.
Did you have a horsey childhood? Very much so. My father was champion point-to-point jockey in 1989 and my mum was involved in showing, so I was always around horses. I was fortunate to ride on showing and showjumping circuits, often competing abroad and also at HOYS and Hickstead.
How did you get into racing? As well as riding pointing, my Dad trained a few pointers so even when I was showjumping, I was always going racing. However, I was doing quite well at the showjumping so it was not the easiest decision but at 16, I chose to go and work for Paul Nicholls.
Winning the Fred Winter on Qualando
Which trainers have you worked for? I started out at Paul Nicholls’, who was fantastic and I rode over hundred winners as a conditional plus a Cheltenham Festival winner. Just after, I rode for Jeremy Scott a lot, including a Grade 1 winner. Andy Turnell also gave me high profile winners, as did Kim Bailey.
Favourite racecourse: Wincanton – mainly because it’s not far away and I’ve had a lot of luck there. I’ve won the three big races held there – the Badger Ales Chase, Elite and Kingwell hurdles – so it’s been a lucky track so far.
Favourite racehorse: I like the ones that are successful but it’s hard to single one out. It doesn’t always have to be the ones with the most ability but sometimes, I get attached to those lower grade horses who always try every time they run.
What are you best days so far? The Cheltenham Festival wins are always up there but finishing third and fourth in the Grand National are up there too because it’s such a high-profile race. As a boy, I watched it so much that, one day, it’d be nice to go a few places better.
Race you’d most like to win: The Grand National.
Generally, what does racing do well at? It’s entertainment. Unlike rugby or football, racing is on every day of the week so the amount of people who go racing or watch racing is high. It’s providing the Thoroughbred the job for its bred for and keeps a lot of people employed too.
Where can racing be improved? As a general sport, it does incredibly well and there are always people thinking of nitpicking ways to improve it. However, racing should be watched so it doesn’t get diluted too much. By keeping the fixture list a fraction lower will keep the attendance figures higher.
How do injuries affect you? I still feel the way about them as I did when younger: the first thing I do is see how many days I can take off the time scale of recovery.
Racing hero: I was fortunate to ride in the era of AP McCoy, Richard Johnson, Ruby Walsh and Mick Fitzgerald, and feel lucky to have done so.
What has been the best racing celebration you’ve attended? AP McCoy’s party at Adare Manor – you’d struggle to be at a better party.
Favourite meal: Chinese takeaway.
Favourite drink: Red wine.
Favourite snack: Crisps.
Favourite holiday destination: Anywhere in the Mediterranean.
Other hobbies: I enjoy watching all sports.
Favourite movie: Crocodile Dundee.
Favourite music: Anything from the ‘90s.
What would you be if you weren’t a jockey? Probably a showjumper!
Great Festival memories with Hunt Ball (photo credit of centre one: racingfotos.com) and Sky Pirate