Record Breaking Novice James Bowen awarded Wilkinson Sword
James Bowen, on board Tinker’s Hill Tommy, breaks the novice riders’ record with his 26th win of the season at Chaddesley Corbett 29th May 2017
Image courtesy of Phil Britt copyright www.philbrittphotos.zenfolio.com
Since his first ride in March James Bowen has blazed a trail through what became a record breaking season. Smashing the previous novice rider record of 25 wins in a season, he had ridden 30 winners ahead of the PPORA’s Annual Awards Lunch where he was awarded the Dodson and Horrell Novice Award for the Wilkinson Sword.
Tessa Jenkins, chatted with him, on behalf of the PPORA, about the foundations for his success, his reflections on the season, learning from experience, and the reasons he the role he sees for Point to Pointing plays an important part in the wider National Hunt context. She discovered a quietly confident, likeable young man, who combines his ambition to turn conditional with a passion for Point to Pointing.
By anyone’s measure James Bowen’s season has been remarkable. It has, he admits, also been a steep learning curve at times. Legged up for the first time in the opener at the Curre and Llangibby Hunt Race Howick on March 12th, his 16th birthday the excitement building up to the day had begun to be mixed with elements of apprehension.
“I was a bit nervous, I was very excited a week before because it was something I’d been looking forward too for a long time. Everyone was asking if I was nervous, and I was, but it was really only for that first ride and the rest of the day I was away then.”
First ride, first winner undoubtedly helped that, with Indian Ruler, trained by his elder brother Mickey, putting in a sound round for a comfortable win
“It was a real confidence booster – the horse went well for me, he jumped well all the way round so it got me into the swing of things.“
Half an hour later there was a reminder of how quickly luck can change in the racing game when Flying Eagle crashed out at the 12th in the PPORA Club Members’ race,
“All the way round he was coming up a bit long and I wasn’t really going with him, and then that one jumps he really did come up went a bit long and landed virtually on the fence. Initially in my head it was the horse’s fault, but it was only my second ride and looking back I think if I’d been going with him more he’d have seen it out so I think it was more my fault to be honest if I rode that race again I wouldn’t fall like that.”
Enjoying the good runs whilst learning to move on from the bad is an important part of any young jockey’s development, and, despite an incredible season, James has experienced both.
“Knowing I’d won the novice title would be my highlight because it seemed a bit of an impossible task at the start of the season. So, it feels great to have done that,” he says, making reference to his mid season start.
“Lorcan Williams was already on about 9 or 10 winners when I first started out so to claw that back when he kept riding winners every weekend seemed quite hard, but Mickey’s horses were running well and I pegged him back in the end.”
“The worst day I had was at Lower Machen, I finished third on Indian Leader, the horse I won my first race on, but he broke down and later had to be put down. Then Sir Du Bearn broke down as well, it was heart breaking, he’d been good to me, he won the men’s open that day, and he was Mickey’s favourite horse. That was a bad day.”
Born into racing – his father Peter is a licensed trainer, brother Mickey trains pointers and brother Sean is a former Point to Point rider who’s made a successful transition into the professional ranks – the foundations for a race riding career were laid early on
“We’ve been brought up to ride, and were expected to be good. All our lives we’ve ridden horses, even when Sean, Mickey and I were younger we were riding horses that were a bit too keen for some people, riding more difficult horses than perhaps we should have been.”
‘Dad was not too soft, he didn’t worry about what we rode, of course he’s more concerned now we’re race riding, but when we were younger he put us on horses that weren’t the easiest to ride, even though mum wasn’t always too happy with it!”
Talking to James there’s an evident balance between his competitive streak and an openness to opportunities to learn. He says the Conditional Course at the British Racing School helped transform his approach to riding into a fence
“Everyone there is really good but especially Yogi Breisner. He’s top class and whatever he says it’s always something that will help you. He’s very positive, and encourages you always to be positive.”
Before when I was riding I just used to sit and even if I was in a finish I’d come to a fence 5 strides out and I’d just sit, if they were long I’d squeeze down. He says momentum is everything going into a fence, so but he said to keep squeezing and get down low even if you can’t see a stride, and that when you do it will come better anyway and the horse is faster it helps when the horse jumps faster, then even when they’re in tight then they can fiddle their way out of it.”
“It was a massive help, I feel I like I learned a lot, and I probably wouldn’t have achieved what I have if I hadn’t been there.”
James is in no doubt of the contribution Point to Pointing makes to National Hunt racing, offering a supportive place for aspiring professionals to gain early experience, whilst at the same time giving opportunities for the true amateur to get their race riding fix.
“Pointing is a great place to learn and to learn from mistakes without being under the pressure that comes with scrutiny of being on TV,” he says.
“But it’s also a lot of fun for a lot of people, that’s what it’s really for isn’t it. The best thing is it’s an amateur sport, and it’s great we have something aside of racing Under Rules that’s for amateurs. Some of the people competing would never ride under Rules but they just love their pointing.”
“That’s very different from on the Flat where you don’t have what we have, and you see a lot of people – apprentices – who never get the chance of a ride.”
He adds that he’d like to see pointing offer more coaching opportunities, and better promotion of the benefits of it, to young riders, adding that if he’s realised how valuable Yogi’s coaching would be it is something he’d have definitely sought out sooner.
With a season under his belt his advice for next year’s newcomers is
“Try not to get too nervous, think positively and don’t focus on the bad points or let yourself have negative thoughts. My third day I fell at the last on my first ride and all that day I was thinking I don’t want to ride, I don’t want to do it – so many bad thoughts – but since that day I’ve realised you’ve got to be positive, believe you can do well and be the best you can. My mum (Karen) is very into positive thinking so that’s partly where I get it from I suppose.”