By Ray Hickson
Christine Bowman occasionally wonders what her life would be like had a coin she tossed in 2002 landed on heads and not tails.
Christine Walsh, as she was then, had spent most of the spring in Melbourne tending to her boss Dermot Weld’s two Cup chances Media Puzzle and Vinnie Roe.
We all know their story.
This story is the tale of how a young Irish lass, wanting to travel, put her fate in the hands of a coin toss and became Australian racing royalty.
“I said to myself, 'where do I want to go?'. I’ll either go to America or to Australia,’’ she recalled.
“So I flipped a coin, heads was America and tails was Australia. It landed on tails and I thought 'well that’s good because I was just there a few weeks ago with the horses'.
“I landed in Sydney with no money and no job. The only thing I knew how do to was ride horses. I’d seen Sydney on the TV, on Home And Away. It was picturesque.’’
A conversation with a stranger while she was staying in a backpackers at Marrickville led her to discover Randwick.
Christine had told the older man about her journey from Ireland and her Melbourne Cup tale and he couldn’t believe it. He insisted she should head to Sydney’s racing epicentre.
“I said 'what’s Randwick?'. He said there’s a racecourse there, lots of trainers and a street called High Street where they all train,’’ she said.
“I think I got two buses and a taxi that day, it took me two hours to get there, and I eventually ended up there.
“I walked up and down and had a look, I saw the Grahame Begg sign and Bart Cummings and I came to Ron Quinton.
“I thought 'Ron used to ride for John Oxx in Ireland in the 80s and he’ll know Irish people' so surely that’d be my best bet of getting job.
“Ron said 'there’s an Irish girl working for me in the office, you might know her'. I was thinking, well what are the chances. Her name was Lisa and we knew each other very well, we were apprentice jockeys together in Ireland years ago.
“She vouched for me big time and I owe her a lot of thanks.’’
Long before that fateful coin toss, Christine left home at 14 to become an apprentice jockey.
Of course she worked for Dermot Weld – 'very badly' is her description of her riding – and the day she rode her first winner she retired from the saddle.
“Dermot was never so glad,’’ she said.
“When I went to the office after the winner I said, 'look Mr Weld I don’t think race riding is for me' and he said 'good choice'.’’
It was on an outing to the Randwick Shopping Centre with Lisa where Christine met a young jockey called Hugh but said she didn’t take much notice of him.
Not long after he asked her out, using his impending birthday as a reason for the date. She said no.
He asked two more times before Christine relented and the rest, as they say, is history.
All because a random coin landed on tails.
“I do wonder what might have happened but in my heart of hearts I believe it was fate, I believe it was meant to land on Australia,’’ she said.
“I was meant to come back, it feels like a home away from home.’’
When you talk to Christine she has a presence.
Perhaps it’s an Irish charm – she can talk anyone under the table – but her self-deprecating nature is refreshing.
No wonder the young jockey named Hugh wanted to know her.
Fast forward to now and Hugh Bowman is the nation’s leading rider, internationally renowned and, of course, the regular partner of Winx.
Christine has watched the kid from Dunedoo grow as a person and as a jockey and can reveal he’s worked very hard on all facets of himself and she couldn’t be prouder.
“I can’t believe his success but he’s done a lot of the hard yards,’’ she said.
“He’s such a good ambassador for racing, he wants racing in Australia to be the best it can be. It’s been wonderful watching his career go from strength to strength and great to be part of it.’’
Hugh and Christine have two girls, four-year-old Bambi and 2-1/2 year old Paige.
Their family is what drives the Bowmans.
“In our house it’s more about the Wiggles and Taylor Swift than racing,’’ she said.
“Before the kids came along we used to watch a lot of racing and replays but we tend not to now, it’s more about the children.
“When we flew home after the third Cox Plate we walked in the door and it was back to reality. The kids didn’t have a clue, it was like we’d never left and nothing happened.
“It keeps us grounded and keeps us focused.’’
Of course the other woman in Hugh’s life is Winx.
Christine often refers to the champion by that term but she’s just as in love with the mare as her husband is.
“They do have a love affair going on, I don’t think she loves as any jockey as much as she loves him. And he loves her,’’ she said.
“I wake up some mornings and look at him and say 'is this really happening to us'.
“Never in our wildest dream did we think it could happen, especially so soon after Black Caviar.
“We thought it’d be the next generation when a Winx came along. As quickly as you’re on the diamond heap you could be back on the other heap so you don’t take it for granted. We’re very blessed.’’
In the last 12 months there have been some very easy wins, some heart stopping moments and the crowning glory of that historic Cox Plate.
She’s not in the spotlight as much as Hugh but the Winx ride is something Christine is happy to savour.
“I don’t ever want it to end, I don’t know what Hugh’s answer would be, but I don’t want it to,’’ she said.
“I’m sure it will be a sense of relief to everybody involved but it comes and goes so quickly. For me I’m trying to hold onto it as much as I can.’’
*Article appeared in the December edition of the Racing NSW magazine