'A National winner changes your life' - Many Clouds groom ends 50-year career
Groom Chris 'CJ' Jerdin, a central character to the epic tale of ill-fated Grand National hero Many Clouds, has brought an end to his 50-year career in the sport.
Originally from Stockport near Manchester, Jerdin was on the smaller side as a child so a job in racing seemed a sensible fit and in 1969 a role was found with Dougie Marks, a successful trainer in Lambourn.
After around eight years with Marks, where he looked after Abernant and Palace House winner Shiny Tenth, he linked up with legendary champion trainer Fulke Walwyn, caring for Peterhof and Rose Ravine among others.
He joined Oliver Sherwood, trainer of the 2015 Aintree winner Many Clouds, in the early 1990s.
"I'm 65, retirement age, and I've done everything I wanted to do in racing," he said. "I've been to the top, looked after a Grand National winner and won't do another horse like that, so it's a good time to go out.
"I've enjoyed every minute of the 50 years. I've met some great characters, some dodgy ones, and for a lad from Stockport to mix with royalty has been brilliant – the only two of the royal family I didn't meet were Princess Margaret and Prince Philip."
Jerdin, universally known as CJ, regards Marks, a huge character with a more serious side when required, as a father figure.
"The only horse I'd sat on before coming to Lambourn was a donkey on Blackpool beach," recalled the popular figure, who stopped riding out just before the arrival of Trevor Hemmings's star at Sherwood's Rhonehurst base.
It is no surprise the triumph of Many Clouds in the National was his finest hour in the sport, despite that memorable Aintree afternoon not going entirely to plan.
"It has to be that," he added. "He was a nervous horse at the start and if you said 'boo' he'd jump six foot in the air. He didn't like blacksmiths, but he wasn't like that at the end.
"One lad, who I won't name, rode him once and said he was slow and no good, but then he went to Wetherby and won by 12 lengths on his debut before finishing ninth in the Champion Bumper in 2012, which was a high-class race."
Many Clouds was a natural over fences – "when you saw him school it was knock-your-socks-off stuff" – and won the 2014 Hennessy Gold Cup, but disappointed in that season's Cheltenham Gold Cup before his date with destiny on Merseyside.
"I was ill going to Aintree," Jerdin continued. "Can you imagine if I hadn't taken him though? I'm still getting cards now from people I don't know.
"A National winner changes your life – he's changed so many people's lives – but I wasn't nervous because I expected him to be pulled up after his Cheltenham run.
"Guy Anstey, who worked for Warren [Greatrex], started saying, 'You're going to win this'.
"All hell broke loose then."
Jerdin, an old-school operator who has maintained calling Sherwood guv'nor in the modern era, went from that high to the cruellest of lows when Many Clouds – by then the people's horse – lost his life immediately after beating King George VI Chase winner Thistlecrack in the 2017 Cotswold Chase.
"I told people in the pub that Thistlecrack hadn't met as good a jumper as Clouds, who would get him at it," he said.
"I'd have retired when he retired and his death hurt me big time. I was numb and coming home in an empty box that night was terrible.
"The biggest thing I miss was the pleasure he gave to people when they came to see him. I was so proud when they came and he touched a lot of people, which the guv'nor must take a lot of credit for because he made him so accessible."
Also the groom of fellow Sherwood star Large Action, Jerdin, unsurprisingly, has few regrets.
"I'll do a bit of travelling and help a friend with some landscaping, but I wouldn't change anything in my career," he said. "It's been fantastic and, thanks to Clouds, the last ten years have been the best."
He's a legend in Lambourn – Sherwood
Oliver Sherwood pays tribute to long-serving employee Chris 'CJ' Jerdin
CJ has been with me since 1990 and looked after Large Action – he is a man who got on with his job. He's a legend in Lambourn and I know he was hoping to retire the same time Many Clouds did, which obviously didn't happen.
His death knocked CJ – as it did everybody – for six. It took the stuffing out of him, but he bounced back and was a very good judge of a horse, when he was riding and to look at. He picked out Clouds as soon as he arrived.
He looked after good horses at Fulke and Cath Walwyn's when they trained before he joined me and was one of those old-school stable lads who knew their job and were taught it properly.
He loves Lambourn and I'm not sure what he'll do now, but we wish him the very best. He will be sorely missed, although his favourite toy at the yard was the leaf blower to tidy up. He had that in his hand morning, noon and night and we won't miss that!
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