Harry Cobden Crowned Champion Jockey for the First Time

Willie Mullins hogged all the headlines on the final day of the British jumps season at Sandown – and rightly so, with his gatecrashing of the British Trainers’ Championship being a genuine generational achievement. However, his award wasn’t the only big prize dished out at the Esher venue.

JP McManus was named leading owner for the 16th time, the up-and-coming Patrick Wadge claimed the Conditional Jockeys’ Championship, and perhaps most significantly, Harry Cobden was crowned British Champion National Hunt Jockey for the first time. For the Somerset native, this landmark achievement marked the culmination of a sparkling rise from his days on the pony racing scene to the summit of the jumps racing game.

Bitten by the Bug at a Young Age

Born and bred on the family farm in the prime National Hunt county of Somerset, it always seemed likely that Cobden’s career would revolve around animals. Whilst the family business was built upon cows, a young Cobden was more interested in the ponies on the farm.

Reportedly learning to ride before he could walk, by the age of nine Cobden was competing on the pony racing scene, although initially without success – Cobden’s assertion that his much-loved but decidedly overweight pony was the fastest in the land proving a little wide of the mark. However, once a speedier steed was procured, Harry swiftly made his presence felt, racking up an impressive sequence of wins.

By the age of just 10, Cobden was regularly riding out for local trainer Ron Hodges. By the age of 13, he had secured a riding out job at the leading yard of Paul Nicholls – setting the wheels in motion on a relationship which would ultimately lead Harry to the Champion Jockeys’ title. Subsequently proving his mettle on the Point-to-Point scene, the next step was to move into the Conditional ranks.

No GCSE in English, but a Boatload of Winners

Harry’s first win under rules came aboard the Anthony Honeyball-trained El Mondo at Leicester in March 2015: a result which likely pleased Harry’s father more than his school teachers. Cobden senior’s delight was no doubt heightened by a £20 punt on the 33/1 shot, which Harry had skipped his GCSE English exam to ride.

Around nine months later, Cobden’s decision to go all in with his riding career appeared vindicated, as he registered his first major success aboard the Paul Nicholls-trained Old Guard in the 2015 Greatwood Handicap Hurdle. A new star was on the rise.

Move Into the Professional Ranks

Soon appointed Conditional rider at the Paul Nicholls yard, Cobden was crowned Champion Conditional Jockey in 2016/17 following a very impressive haul of 63 winners. The next big question was where Cobden would gain employment as a number one professional rider.

Harry’s success had left him in the fortunate position of being able to choose between Paul Nicholls and the yard of Colin Tizzard, who had provided him with his first Cheltenham Festival success aboard Kilbricken Storm in the 2018 Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle. In the end, Harry plumped for Nicholls, and he hasn’t looked back ever since.

Bouncing Back From a Disastrous Start

Jump Jockeys Championship 2023-24
Jump Jockeys Championship 2023-24 via PJA

Cobden’s excitement at his number-one role was soon put into sharp perspective. Less than a month into the new job, he was sent flying from the saddle in a chase contest at Market Rasen. Somehow able to walk away from the unseat, a later scan revealed he had broken a bone in his neck and was fortunate to be on his feet at all. A spell on the sidelines inevitably ensued, but the fact he was back in the saddle a mere three months later is a testament to his determination.

Breaking through the 100-win barrier for the first time in 2018/19, Cobden picked up 80 or more winners in each of the subsequent four years before the crowning glory of his 2023/24 campaign.

Battling Back to Reel in Bowen

Harry Cobden may have been a warm favourite to land the title heading into the final week, but it wasn’t always that way. In fact, at Christmas time, it appeared highly likely that the name of Sean Bowen would be etched on the trophy. However, such are the trials and tribulations of being a professional jockey, that Bowen found himself facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines following a serious knee injury sustained at Aintree on Boxing Day.

One man’s fall is another man’s fortune, and Cobden wasted little time clawing his way back into the race – completely erasing a 47-win deficit by the time Bowen returned to action in February. From there, a hammer and tongs battle ensued, but, propelled by the power and numbers of the Nicholls yard – and a fair share of plum outside rides – Cobden sealed the deal at Chepstow on the penultimate day – a double on the card taking him four clear of Bowen, who had only four mounts on the final day.

The Cherry on Top of an Impressive Record

It is hard not to feel a little sorry for Bowen but equally difficult to begrudge a rider widely recognised as one of the most talented to emerge in the past decade. Still only 25 years of age, this accolade tops a list of achievements which would satisfy most riders at the end of their career. Selected Cobden highlights include:

  • 866 Career Wins
  • 24 Grade 1 successes
  • 5 Cheltenham Festival victories
  • 2 King George Wins

There is surely so much more to come from this brilliantly talented young rider and we look forward to seeing the rest of his career unfold in the years ahead.