The glory years for Sir Alex Ferguson were built on the Class of ’92, six players who rose from the youth team to drive Manchester United through a golden era.
If Ferguson is to win Friday’s Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, it will be another triumph for youth. Aged seven, Clan Des Obeaux, the horse Ferguson owns with his friends Paul Barber and Ged Mason, is one of the youngest in the line-up for the £625,000 race.
His 20-year-old jockey Harry Cobden has a calmness under pressure that David Beckham, Paul Scholes, the Nevilles, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt would have been proud of.
Trainer Paul Nicholls with Clan Des Obeaux at Manor Farm Stables in Ditcheat
Cobden has also been the subject of a transfer tug-of-war that would not look out of place in the Premier League.
Clan Des Obeaux’s trainer Paul Nicholls, who had nurtured Cobden since he arrived at his stable aged 13, fought to keep the jockey when local rival Colin Tizzard tried to poach him to be his No 1.
Nicholls promoted him over the popular Sam Twiston-Davies rather than run the risk of seeing Cobden move.
He said: ‘It was a big decision to take him and I got plenty of stick for doing it. This sort of thing happens in football but not in racing.
‘I had a right battle (keeping Cobden). Every time I offered this, they’d offer that. It was tit for tat for ages. I just told Harry he had to make his mind up. If he hadn’t been No 1 here, he’d have been No 1 there. Simple as that.’
Tizzard concedes the extra firepower of 10-time champion Nicholls meant luring Cobden was always going to be hard.
Young jockey Harry Cobden has also been the subject of a transfer tug-of-war
He said: ‘We offered Harry the job here but Paul’s job is bigger and better, so that’s fine. I was not surprised. I don’t think there is a jockey in England who would turn down the job with Paul. He’s half a million clear in the trainers’ championship.’
A measure of the regard both trainers have for Cobden is that, while No 1 for Nicholls, he still rides occasionally for Tizzard. Indeed, Tizzard supplied his first Festival win when 33-1 shot Kilbricken Storm landed last year’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
In the Gold Cup, Nicholls and Tizzard will be fighting it out with last year’s winner Native River, Thistlecrack and Elegant Escape representing Tizzard and Nicholls relying on Clan Des Obeaux.
With a surprise win in the King George VI Chase and a perfect prep-race success in the Denman Chase, Clan Des Obeaux is 9-2 co-favourite with Ireland’s Presenting Percy and defending champion Native River.
Cobden says he rarely dwells on past rides and can escape from the sport on the family farm, where his winning percentages have been invested in a herd of around 100 cows and his own 12-acre field.
Cobden said: ‘It is a high-pressure job but I don’t look at it like that. I don’t feel any pressure and I haven’t felt it on any of the horses this year. Going out to ride Clan Des Obeaux in the King George was like going out to ride in any other race. I never get worried about anything before a race. It makes a big difference if you go out feeling confident.
‘It is not a bad thing when you get home to get on with the farming side of things and forget about racing. I am a farmer at heart and a hobby rider! I am quite a laid-back person. I never get wound-up or worried. Paul believes in me and so does Mr Tizzard.’
When Nicholls was a jockey, he rode for Cobden’s grandfather Toby. Nicholls spotted the young Cobden when he was pony racing against his daughter Megan. Even then, Nicholls had seen enough to entrust the schoolboy with a man’s job.
Cobden, who needs four more winners to hit 100 in a season for the first time, recalled: ‘When you are 13 and the champion trainer is asking you to come and ride out for him, it is a big thing.
‘I rode all the quiet ones but I remember the first horse I schooled was Kauto Stone. From that day on, I knew horses were for me. I also remember I was riding up the gallop alongside Big Buck’s — a four-time World Hurdle winner. It was mad!’
On his 16th birthday, Cobden left school and spent a winter working with trainer Anthony Honeyball, but it was only a matter of time before he returned to Ditcheat and he was a stable conditional jockey the next season.
Riding Clan Des Obeaux in the King George was a big decision. After being beaten in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November, the gelding was a 16-1 shot. More fancied stablemate Politologue was 6-1 but Cobden was sure he had made the right call.
He said: ‘I believed he had it in him and in the King George I was confident going down the back straight that I’d be in the first three.’
Clan Des Obeaux has not won in four runs at Cheltenham but Cobden is unfazed. He said: ‘He is stronger now. Clan Des Obeaux has come into his prime.’ The worrying thing for his rivals is that Cobden is yet to hit his peak.