Bowman’s bush roots shine brightest on the world stage

SUPERSTAR: Hugh Bowman with the connections of Cheval Grand after winning the Japan Cup. Bowman will officially be crowned the world's best jockey this week.

SUPERSTAR: Hugh Bowman with the connections of Cheval Grand after winning the Japan Cup. Bowman will officially be crowned the world's best jockey this week.

When Hugh Bowman crossed the line on Cheval Grand to win the Japan Cup last week his first thoughts were of himself as an eight-year-old marvelling at a trophy in the tiny town of Mendooran.

It is hard to have a private moment in front of a crowd of more than 100,000 punters and with 16 rivals on highly tuned thoroughbreds chasing you in one of Japan's biggest races, but Bowman did.

His thoughts were of the central NSW town, population a little more than 300. He remembered a trophy. Not one for first place or even second, but it probably explains why he was drawn to the land of the rising sun.

"I knew even back then I wanted to be a jockey," Bowman recalled. "We went to Claude Renshaw's place at Mendooran for a barbecue and he owned Shaftesbury Avenue and they had the trophy for third in the Japan Cup there.

"I remember it as clear as yesterday. When I went past the post on Sunday I thought of it.

"It wasn't impressive but it was classy and I wanted to get one like it."

Mendooran is a short drive from Dunedoo, where Bowman grew up learning to ride and being taught that you are only as good as your horse.

Like most Australian jockeys, Bowman has dreamed of winning Golden Slippers and Melbourne Cups, which have so far eluded him, but a Cox Plate and Japan Cup in the same year would cap a fulfilling a career for many.

It is 21 years ago since James Hugh Bowman rode Go Campese in his first race ride at the Mungery Picnics. Soon after his first winner came in the Wellington Picnic Cup on Slatts. That is a long way from riding in Tokyo and Hong Kong and being renowned around the world.

On Friday, he will be the honoured in front of his peers as the World's Best Jockey, after winning 10 of the top 100 races in the world.

It is a tag that doesn't sit well with the 37-year-old.

"It is about the horse you get to ride. The opportunities. There are plenty of other jockeys that can win on the right horses," Bowman said. "There are a lot of jockeys given the opportunity [who] could win the same races.

"Even the Japan Cup ride on Cheval Grand, I was a bit lucky because I got to ride him because someone chose another horse. I could have just as easily been watching him win."

That is the Bowman modesty.

But 16 group 1 wins this year gives you opportunities.

To achieve those numbers you almost invariably have to have a champion horse and for Bowman that is Winx, unconquered in 22 races, including six group 1 victories.

"Winx or no Winx, a year like this is amazing. The best of my career," Bowman said. "You look at it and think 16 group 1s, that's a lot.

"I'm getting the opportunity to do what I dreamed of and more.  You have to remember the hard work which got me to this stage and that is about the horse and doing your best."

Bowman will ride the Hong Kong International meeting this week, and even without Australian horses being able to compete this year due to new quarantine measures, he has rides in three of the four features.

He will ride Lucky Bubbles in the International Sprint, a horse on which he won the Chairman's Sprint Prize earlier in the year. He will also partner Japanese raiders Staphanos and Satono Aladdin in the Cup and Mile respectively.

Hugh Bowman salutes the crowd after one of his many wins aboard the wonder mare Winx.

Hugh Bowman salutes the crowd after one of his many wins aboard the wonder mare Winx.

"The horse in the Cup ran third last year, so is proven at the level," Bowman said. "Lucky Bubbles is very good sprinter, up with the best in Hong Kong

"Satono Aladdin is trained by my sponsor to ride in Japan, so to win for him would be great, and repay him for the opportunity."

Even with all the International success, Bowman knows there is one horse, one four-letter word that defines him and Australian racing in 2017 - Winx.

"You get used to the high pressure and attention around her when you are riding her in the spring in Australia," Bowman said. "But coming here [to Japan] has given me some idea what she means to the world.

"Everyone wants to know about her. They are watching and living every one of her wins.

"I had jockeys ask me about her and what she is like to ride. I'm happy to talk about her because I don't think I'm going to find another like her.

"I knew she was big in Australia but when you find out the whole world is watching, it is a good feeling.

"Until she finishes, she is my focus because she has become such a big part of my career. I'm better known because of her and she will be the horse I will look back on in 10 years and enjoy."

There are still goals to achieve for Bowman and after his couple of months in Japan he is refreshed for the challenge of 2018. He named Golden Slipper favourite Performer as a horse he is looking forward to returning to ride.

"He was very good in winning the Breeders' Plate and it will be interesting how he has improved. He would have to be a good Slipper chance," Bowman said.

"I have really gone past worrying about the races I haven't won, but the Slipper would be a nice one to win.

"If they happen they happen, I know I'll get my chances.

"Of course I would like to win a Melbourne Cup but the reality is it is very tough for me because of my weight. There is only going to be a horse I could ride to win the cup with once every 10 or so years, so you need to be very lucky to get the chance to be on it.

"I have got to ride a champion equine athlete in Winx and plenty of good horses, so if don't win those races I have still had a good career."