The Premier League is a tough place to succeed. Every season the same names appear at the top of the table, bankrolled by their super-rich owners. Breaking into the elite is very difficult. It is the same in horseracing.
One man hoping for promotion is Jeremy Scott. On a crisp January day at Huntingdon, as he shares a pre-racing joke with his owners, the West Country trainer could almost pass for Roy Hodgson – albeit he is taller and a good few years younger than the current England manager – yet the comparison is not confined purely to looks.
Before he was awarded the (thankless) job of overseeing the national side, Hodgson displayed his acumen at struggling Fulham. Lacking the spending power of Manchester United, Chelsea and co, he assembled a squad consisting of mostly cheap purchases and individuals deemed past their best and turned them into a potent force, guiding the club to their first European final.
When you’re operating at the bottom end of the market you often have to take a punt
Working on a tight budget, spotting potential, developing talent, trying to move up the table – themes that former dairy farmer Scott, 51, understands only too well having entered the professional training ranks with just a handful of modestly-bred horses in his care.
One of those horses, the tough-as-teak ex-pointer Gone To Lunch, was the catalyst for the career switch and gave Scott his first taste of racing’s premier league with a series of appearances at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown.
He came up short each time, also finishing runner-up in two Scottish Nationals, but still earned more than £200,000. Not a bad return on a speculative €14,000 investment.
“Nobody had heard of Gone To Lunch’s sire Mohaajir,” says Scott, thinking back to that day in 2004 when he parted with a not insignificant sum for a permit holder. “But when you’re operating at the bottom end of the market you often have to take a punt on a horse.
“It was purely on looks that we bought him. Type and conformation have to come first because we simply cannot afford the King’s Theatres and Presentings that we’d love to buy. What we’ve tried to do is choose a type of animal, then look at the page to see if we can get it.
“Gone To Lunch was the first horse we felt was good enough to take us somewhere under rules and one of the main reasons I took out a licence. Plus I’d really had enough of milking cows.”
Taking over his parents’ farm in Brompton Regis, a small village 1,000ft up in Exmoor on the edge of the Brendon Hills, was always on the agenda for Scott after completing agricultural college.
He married Camilla, who worked in bloodstock insurance in London, and they set about rehabilitating an old mare bought for peanuts. A friend suggested they train her for a point-to-point. They did and she duly won.
“It was only a very bad maiden down in Cornwall,” Scott says, almost apologising for the triumph. “But after that we were bitten by the bug.”
County Derry, a regular participant in the Cheltenham Foxhunter Chase, carried the Scotts further along the path towards full-time training. When Gone To Lunch proved his ability the deal was sealed.
It transpired that hunters were more exciting than heifers. Was there a “bugger the cows” moment, as owner and fellow farmer Anthony Knott would have put it?
“Well, that was how I felt,” says Scott. “It got to the point where the horses were built up to such a level that I wasn’t clever enough to do both well.
“I always knew that milking cows where we are, below the moorland with so much rain, is much harder than elsewhere and therefore less profitable. I had it in my mind that I wouldn’t be doing it forever unless I moved farms.
“County Derry got the ball rolling, really. Gary Lever, a friend of a friend, sent him to us; he was our first outside owner. We didn’t meet Gary until we met at Larkhill. Point-to-pointing was a release to get me and Camilla off the farm at weekends.
“My wife has always been involved with horses and has a much better eye for a horse than I do. She is the real judge and at the sales I leave her out in the cold watching the horses go round while I sit in the bar!
“If it wasn’t for Camilla I wouldn’t be training and I certainly wouldn’t be successful at it. She does all the horse care at home, day in day out – she has real empathy with the horses and they are her life.”
So the cows have gone – “we do have 600 ewes, though” – as has Gone To Lunch, his mantle as stable star taken by Melodic Rendezvous, a beast of enormous potential and winner of the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in January, a first Grade 1 success for both trainer and jockey Nick Scholfield.
Unlike the majority of the Scott string, Melodic Rendezvous’s route to Higher Holworthy Farm was not via the sales ring but directly from his breeder. The early signs were not particularly promising.
“He was four when he arrived and was very un-level, up behind and down in front,” Scott says.
“Because he was still growing, to sit on him was like riding a hare – you felt like you were always going downhill! It was only a month before his debut that he really started to get it together.
“Actually, prior to his bumper run, the plan was to win a point-to-point and sell him. He’d schooled over fences and was all ready to go. But we felt he’d win a bumper.”
That debut win at Chepstow, from rivals trained by Hobbs, Nicholls and Henderson, hinted at what was to come. Melodic Rendezvous finished second in a Grade 1 bumper at Punchestown on his next start and the improvement has continued this season over hurdles.
“Winning the Tolworth was a relief more than anything,” Scott says. “Running up to the race, did I think we would win? I wasn’t confident because there were a lot of horses in the race with similar profiles.
“At the moment, given his speed, you’d say he would make a lovely two-mile chaser. But his pedigree suggests he’d stay.”
Aside from Melodic Rendezvous, who is among the market leaders for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival, Scott oversees a number of other promising types, including Empiracle, effortless winner of his sole start in a Huntingdon bumper, and exciting hurdler Kilmurvy.
With Melodic Rendezvous I was left to get on with the training so treated him as my own
There is also On The Bridge, who has gone up 30lb in the handicap since arriving at the stable, scoring five times over hurdles and fences. He never managed to win for his previous trainer. How’s that for man management?
Scott says: “What we love is producing these young horses and bringing them through. With Melodic, I was left to get on with the training so I treated the horse as one of my own; there was no-one asking me to run him and no target. I went at my own speed.
“We purchased Empiracle in Ireland as a three-year-old – he cost €22,000 and was the most expensive horse I’d ever bought. But then I got him home and couldn’t sell him. I wish I’d run him at four because he showed an awful lot of ability but then he started to grow.
“I hoped he’d win first time out as I owned him and was desperate to sell; he’s now been bought by some owners in the yard. He’s shown much more talent at home than anything I’ve had and he’ll happily work with Melodic.”
A key ingredient in the Scott success story is former champion amateur jockey Scholfield. The 23-year-old, who shot to prominence with Paul Nicholls, bagging big prizes aboard Cornish Sett and Taranis, has matured into a rider of considerable talent, one who finds his services in demand.
With the major spring festivals still to come, Scholfield has already passed last season’s tally of 48 winners and must have every chance – barring injury – of hitting the century.
“Nick will come down once a week and ride out – his knowledge is invaluable,” Scott says. “He’s worked for the champion trainer. First of all he’s a horseman who has become a top jockey, which is very important for the horses’ development. It’s not just about the riding skill.
“He’s ridden winners for us that I know wouldn’t have won had we used someone else. I’m not saying Nick is a better rider than anybody else – we just work extremely well together and try to get the best out of the horses.”
Scholfield’s efforts to get the best out of Scott’s four runners at Huntingdon later that day yield nothing better than a second on the mare Addiction. A total prize-money haul of £1,683 may not be much reward for taking the quartet on a 480-mile, nine-hour round trip, but there will be other days for the stable.
What about the future? As ever, the trainer displays caution, refusing to sanction the building of a huge new stable block despite acknowledging that, with around 35 horses in training, he cannot accommodate any more at present. Fulham are happy at Craven Cottage and so is Scott in Brompton Regis.
“We’re nicely full and it’s important not to grow beyond your capability,” he argues. “Where we’re positioned I’d rather do a small number well. It’s about improving the string and getting the horses I have to the highest level.
“I’m sure we will expand but we’ll creep away at it. It’s not that I’m not ambitious but I don’t want to lose the quality of the care. I’m very ambitious for the horses, and for ourselves, but I don’t think going up to 120 horses is necessarily the ambition I have.
“I have two daughters, Georgina  and Laura , and if either of them wishes to take it on, then it will be up to them to really push it forwards.”
Scott adds: “If you’d have asked me aged 21 would I be training horses in 20 years time… the thought hadn’t crossed my mind.
“I think we’ve shown we can compete in the day-to-day racing. It would now be nice to show our ability with higher grade horses.”