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.
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 (5 January) 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 en route to an impressive four and a half length victory in the Tolworth Hurdle.
Melodic Rendezvous, trained by Jeremy Scott, holds entries in the William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle over two miles and the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle over five furlongs further.