Even as a young racing fan in his hometown of Dunedoo, Hugh Bowman dreamed of one day riding in and winning the Melbourne Cup.
While Bowman has since become one of Australia’s leading jockeys and is now preparing for his eighth start in the iconic race, he still dreams of winning the Melbourne Cup.
Since his days of ebing apprenticed to Bill and Leanne Aspros in Bathurst, making his racing debut aboard Go Campese in the 1996 Mungery Picnic Cup and later than year enjoying his first win when Slatts took out the $3,500 Wellington Cup, Bowman has gone on to notch up 83 Group 1 wins.
His impressive resume includes four consecutive Cox Plate wins aboard champion mare Winx, but the closest he has come to hoisting the Melbourne Cup was a fifth in 2016 with Who Shot Thebarman.
Though Bowman now feels relaxed at the prospect of riding in the Melbourne Cup, which this year carries a $7.3 million purse, he is still chasing an elusive win.
“It’s not foreign territory for me now, it’s as normal for me as it could get. The fact I’ve had experience doing it around the world, riding in big races, riding Winx of course and the amount of expectation with her – this is much more relaxing for me believe it or not,” Bowman revealed.
“It’s a race that I haven’t won and a race I dreamed of winning as a child, so obviously it would mean a great deal to me if I could win it. I just dreamed of winning it all my life.
“It’s different, it’s definitely different. The amount of emotion and buzz and hype around the whole thing is huge, but it’s something I’m very comfortable with.
“Having ridden in it and other big races around the world, it’s just another major event and I’m very comfortable with the whole process now, whereas when I was younger you know it might have got to me a little bit.”
Bowman made his Melbourne Cup debut in 2009 when riding the Bart Cummings trained Roman Emperor to 21st. He did not get a ride the following year and 12 months later the horse he was to guide – Mourayan – was scratched.
But since then Bowman has become a regular in the 3,200 metres classic. This Tuesday at Flemington he will saddle up aboard English stayer Marmelo, the same horse he guided to ninth in 2017.
He started last year’s race as the $7 equal favourite and led at the top of the straight for Bowman, but he did not have the legs to finish off the job.
Over the last 300 metres the English stayer dropped back through the field to eventually place ninth. He was 9.75 lengths off the pace of victor Rekindling.
This Tuesday the Duke Of Marmalade x Capriolla gelding will hump 55 kilograms – the same as in 2017 – and has drawn barrier 10 for the Group 1 feature. Ten previous winners have come from that spot.
“It's a good draw, I can just be comfortable,” Bowman said.
Trainer Hughie Morrison has opted for a different build up this year for Marmelo as he made winning the Melbourne Cup his priority.
Whereas 12 months ago Marmelo headed into the Melbourne Cup after an impressive sixth in the Caulfield Cup – his final 400 metres especially eye-catching – this year he will be first up after an 11-week spell.
His last start came in the Group 2 Prix Kergorlay (3,000m) on August 19 in Deauville, France, when placing second. It is the same race Protectionist won on his way to a devastating victory in the 2014 Melbourne Cup.
It is one of just four starts he has had since Bowman rode him last November.
Still, the man who has placed in 56 percent of his rides at Bathurst’s Tyers Park is hopeful Marmelo can feature first up.
“I’m hoping it will, I really won’t know until after the race,” Bowman said.
“The horse has been here which gives me confidence, the fact that he came here and ran well last year in the Caulfield Cup. I know he didn’t go well in the Melbourne Cup, but obviously that’s why he hasn’t run this time.
“The horse is in good shape, he’s travelled well, he’s certainly more developed than last year, I think Hughie Morrison is much happier with him than he was last year. When he arrived last year I think deep down he felt as if his Caulfield Cup run, we might have saw the best of him there, and that’s exactly how it played out.
“I think from our point of view, we’re much happier this year. From the inner circle so to speak.”
Following the barrier draw Marmelo was rated a $15 chance, with Aidan O’Brien’s Yucatan holding early favouritism. Bowman said his chance felt good in track work at Werribee last week and is confident he will do well.
“I really think he’ll run a big race, whether he’s good enough to win, that I can’t answer. But I’m sure he’ll run as well as he can run,” Bowman said.
“He felt great, I’m really pleased with him, but it’s hard to tell exactly where he is, I’m not going to know until the race. It will answer all the questions.”
Still, even if Marmelo can not deliver Bowman his first Melbourne Cup win, he will not be overly disappointed. In fact the champion jockey admitted he would still be satisfied if he ends his career without hoisting the iconic trophy.
“It would be great to say I’d won it one day. But even if I didn’t, if it comes that I retire and I haven’t won it, I wouldn’t be at all disappointed with my how my career has gone. I’m very honoured to have been able to ride in the races I have and win some of the races that I have and ride the horses I’ve ridden, it’s just been incredible,” he said.
“I wouldn’t be so selfish as to say my career isn’t complete without a Melbourne Cup. Obviously I’d love to win it, but if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.
“If I got the choice to have a Melbourne Cup or to have done what I’ve done, I would chose the path I’ve taken. I want to win it obviously, but I can’t make it happen, it either will or it won't.
“The atmosphere is great, you definitely feel it, not so much in the race, but obviously before it and all the build up – it’s incredible. It's really, really special just to be a part of it. So I’m very proud.”
His bid to win aboard Marmelo is part of a busy day at Flemington for Bowman, who will have five rides in total.
He will saddle up in two Group 3s – riding Still Single in the Bumble Stakes (1,000m) and Savatiano in the Hong Kong Jockey Club Stakes (1,400m) – ride Karavali in the TAB App Trophy (1,700m) for mares and saddle up on Madame Rouge in the Listed Jim Beam Black Stakes (1,400m).
The Melbourne Cup is set to jump at 3pm on Tuesday.