9 November 2008
There’s never any time like the first time. Considering that 19-year-old Sam Allwood is already 6ft 2in he is unlikely to remain a jockey into anything like middle age. But if he lives to 90 he won’t forget riding Bowleaze over three miles and 22 fences at Sandown to land the first winner of his career.
Up at Doncaster, Tropical Strait was just out-pointing favourite The Betchworth Kid, over at Wincanton Paul Nicholls was saddling five winners, but even though the Nicholls stable turned out another two at Sandown, nothing will sear as deep in the memory as Bowleaze’s slog round the rain-sodden Surrey turf. For you remember that first winner right until you croak.
Young Sam is a typical example of the West Country point-to-point scene which Bowleaze’s trainer Robert Alner adorned for so long. Already successful 12 times in that sphere he had his first ride under rules (finishing a distant seventh at Towcester) only a fortnight ago. Bowleaze has been around a lot longer, this being his 28th race since making a winning debut at Exeter five years ago. But the old horse and the lanky young pilot immediately struck up a happy association and Sam will be replaying the pictures of them winning over Sandown’s famous back stretch until he is heavy enough to break the sofa.
Mind you, Charlie Poste, the rider of second-placed Alfadora, will be doing his best to have the record destroyed. For halfway down the back stretch his left foot slipped out of the stirrup iron – which are impossible to handle in these conditions – and he had to navigate the next fence in a strange one-legged cowboy fashion and though he got the foot back into the iron Alfadora seemed to become increasingly difficult to balance.
Some horses don’t take that well to these elements either and as the unraced Pepe Simo drew up to the leaders ready to give Paul Nicholls a record eighth winner of the day, he suddenly altered course alarmingly to port and even when Harry Skelton straightened him up, the horse dived left a second time.
Skelton, the younger brother of Nicholls’ assistant Dan and son of star show jumper Nick Skelton, had earlier looked like a mud-caked rugby player as he battled Take The Breeze home in the handicap hurdle. Before that his stable had sent out another electrifying jumper when Tony McCoy set the novice Free World on his steeplechasing career with a set of spring-heeled leaps down the back stretch which even left the perennial champion shaking his head in wonder.
Paul Nicholls has once before had seven winners in a day but the irony of his afternoon at Wincanton was that his biggest victory, Cornish Sett’s short-head success in the Badger Ales Trophy over favourite Island Flyer, was won by his apparent second string, with Ruby Walsh and the shorter-priced Leading Attraction a length back in third.
Walsh and Nicholls were also outgunned in the day’s prestigious Elite Hurdle when the mare Chomba Womba came back from an unproductive liaison with the stallion Presenting last summer to run out a most impressive winner, with Champion Hurdler Katchit another six lengths back in third. At first look this seemed a rather laboured effort. But when you reflect on the way he stuck on despite the concession of 18lb to the winner it’s easier to share trainer Alan King’s satisfaction. “Cheltenham,” he said, “will be another day.” Don’t tell that to Sam Allwood. For him, yesterday was everything.