By Ray Hickson
We talk about giving our horses a chance to 'just be a horse' after a big campaign, well after almost two months of being a ‘normal person’ champion jockey Hugh Bowman says he’s ready to return to the saddle on Saturday week.
Bowman shocked racing fans with his announcement on May 3 that he was taking a break from riding in the aftermath of the emotional wave of the Winx journey coming to an end.
The decision came to a head during a Warwick Farm midweek meeting two days before his announcement where, in the best interests of his health, he stood himself down from commitments at that weekend's Gold Coast Hollindale Stakes meeting and took an indefinite break.
“My body was telling me, that’s the bottom line,’’ Bowman said on Sky Sports Radio on Thursday morning.
“I was exhausted to be perfectly honest. I had no energy, usually when I feel a bit flat I push it a bit harder and keep going.
“It wasn’t a decision I would have made unless I needed to. It was about resting the body and mind and getting ready for the new (racing) year because there is so much to look forward to.’’
The 38-year-old said the impact of the Winx ride crept up on him.
At each media call and interview commitment the cool and calm Bowman presented but by the time Winx dazzled Randwick with her finale in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Day 2 of The Championships he was starting to struggle.
“I underestimated the impact Winx had on everybody,’’ Bowman said.
“All the emotion everyone had, I blocked that out so I could do my role to the best of my ability.
“I was just doing what I had to do. I was blocking everything out, at the end of the day it took its toll and I felt that when she retired. My body was in pain, literally, it was like I’d been playing football.’’
Earlier this week it was announced that Winx would be served by champion stallion I Am Invincible in the spring.
So what does the leading Group 1 jockey for the past five seasons - he claimed 11 in 2018-19 - do when he takes a break from racing?
After Bowman was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in early May he largely became anonymous, popping up now and then – he attended a Cutting Horse event in Tamworth, travelled to the United States for an NBA game and surfaced at Royal Randwick last weekend.
“I enjoyed friends company, taking the kids to school. Normal things. Going to dinner, Friday night beers,’’ he said.
“I certainly feel good in my mind. It’s been great to step away from it for a while. I feel good now. I’m unfit, and a bit heavy, but that’s part of getting back.’’
‘She’s Apples’ of a different sort-great fun to be apart of the @NCHA_Australia Celebrity Cutting last night in @tamworthnsw with some much needed funds raised for the Sisters Of The North Charity supporting those affected by the North QLD floods. Thanks @Ariat who kitted me out. pic.twitter.com/8gAsVhXjCh
— Hugh Bowman (@HugeBowman) June 7, 2019
Bowman has ridden a few horses at trackwork a couple of times this week will be in action at the Randwick trials on Friday and he’s been booked for a few rides at Randwick on Saturday week including the unbeaten three-year-old Sir Elton.
Despite his absence Bowman sits in third place in the Sydney jockeys premierships with 63 winners for the season.
He said his weight is around 60-61kg and isn’t putting any pressure on himself to be at peak fitness first day back where he has rides at 58kg.
“I felt really awkward on the first horse,’’ he said.
“It’s going to take time. I've always believed if you have a month off it takes a month to get back to full fitness. I’ve been out seven weeks.
“I have a bit of work to do but the best way to make weights is to take rides and push through the pain barrier.’’