Teenage kicks in Chepstow marathon as Raz De Maree goes one better
James Bowen has been tipped to become a future champion jockey ever since he turned conditional and the 16-year-old demonstrated he had the head for the big occasion as well when he landed the Coral Welsh Grand National on a horse, Raz De Maree, who is just three years his junior.
When Raz De Maree finished runner-up in last season's Chepstow marathon Bowen had yet to have his first ride under rules, but if it wasn't already obvious, the teenage tyro from West Wales underlined why he is regarded as one of the most exciting young jockeys in the weighing room by winning his home National on the Gavin Cromwell-trained veteran.
Bowen and Cromwell had to wait ten days after the race was rescheduled for their chance to show Raz De Maree, beaten a length and three quarters by Native River in the 2016 running, remained a force in long-distance events, despite turning 13 on New Year's Day.
They were still to play their hand when the pacesetting Wild West Wind crashed out at the 12th fence, a fall that hampered Vintage Clouds, Big Brown Bear and Bishops Road.
But when Alfie Spinner, the race's other 13-year-old, went on from the next fence, Raz De Maree came into his own, picking off rivals one by one to take the lead at the second last and stretch to a six lengths victory with Final Nudge third and Vintage Clouds fourth.
Bowen, who is the youngest winning rider of the race in modern times, is the youngest son of Pembrokeshire trainer Peter and younger brother of former champion conditional Sean, neither of whom have won the Welsh National
"You grow up watching these races at home and to win it in my first season riding is amazing," said James Bowen. "He has not travelled anywhere with me and going down the back I thought if we were able to get round and finish in the places we will have done well.
"Once he's got past the horses he has really locked on to Alfie Spinner and almost got there too soon in the end. He loves it and jumps so well."
Raz De Maree equalled the record for the oldest horse ever to win the Welsh Grand National. The only previous winning 13-year-old was Snipe's Bridge in 1927, when the race was still run at Cardiff. He is only the second winner of the race trained in Ireland, the first being Notre Pere (Jim Dreaper) in 2008.
Cromwell, a farrier by trade, is Gordon Elliott's blacksmith but has developed a burgeoning training career alongside it in the last few seasons.
"Last year if you had taken Native River out of it he would have been an impressive winner," said Cromwell, 43.
"To be honest once he jumped the last two because he stays so well there was nothing going to get by him at that stage. He won't stop. If anything maybe he got there a bit too soon.
"I was delighted James accepted the ride. I had a few of the top jockeys come on after looking for the ride, but I wasn't going to swap him. The 5lb was very important. He is only a small little horse so if he creeps up over 11st he doesn't jump that well and finds it a struggle."
He added: "I have had two Grade 1 wins with Jer's Girl and that was fantastic but this is right up there. It's great for the Swan family [owners] who are neighbours of mine."
Alfie Spinner was denied a fourth Welsh National win in seven years for the stable of Kerry Lee, who won the race in 2016 and father Richard in 2013 and 2011.
His jockey Richard Patrick, 22, also hails from Pembrokeshire and began his riding career with the Bowen family.
Lee said: "Leading three out and two out was quite heart-stopping. I thought Richard Patrick gave his horse the most fantastic ride. It's his first Welsh National ride, as it is for James Bowen. We saw two young jockeys at the top of their game."
Final Nudge's trainer David Dennis said: "I think he's got the trip okay because he's held on for third and the front two have quickened away. He'll be entered in the National. Whether that's realistic I don't know, but the way he jumped and travelled it wouldn't be out of the question."
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