Pony racing was the making of polished Bowen – Johnson
Richard Johnson has joined the clamour of praise for teenage riding sensation James Bowen – and claimed his astonishing feats were tribute to Britain's burgeoning pony racing circuit.
The champion jockey reckons the 16-year-old, who took the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton seven days after becoming the youngest rider ever to win the Welsh Grand National, is "the whole package."
Bowen won the 138cm pony racing final at York in 2013 at the age of 12, on a day when elder brother Sean won the 148cm final, and Johnson said: "The pony racing scene has stood a lot of these younger jockeys in very good stead. It's keeping lads interested in horses and bringing them into racing.
"I would have loved it to be around when I was starting. It helps you understand more about how racing works.
"Ireland has had pony racing for a long time and we've always been slightly on the back foot – some people will say we are still a long way off what they have but it's definitely a very good grounding for young jockeys now."
Johnson, who rode his first winner at 16 and won the conditional jockeys' title at 18, was full of praise for Bowen, who is not 17 until March yet needs just two more winners to cut his claim to 3lb.
"In the way James rides and and how he conducts himself, he's a very wise head on young shoulders," he said.
"He's very polished already. It's the whole package, he's stylish, he's strong. Horses jump for him, horses respond for him and he seems to have a natural talent to know where he should be in a race and when to press go, when to sit still. He's very accomplished and at such a young age it's incredible.
"It's wrong to try and make comparisons but what he's already achieved is probably as good as anybody ever has done or could wish to at his age – he can't even drive a car yet!"
Bowen is the son of jumps trainer Peter Bowen and Johnson, whose mother Sue trains in Herefordshire, paid tribute to his upbringing.
"When you are from a racing family like that, he will have lived and breathed racing all his life," he said.
"Peter and Karen are great horse people and do a tremendous job. The Bowen family were very instrumental in getting me started when I was riding point-to-pointers and first took out a licence. They are phenomenal."
Five other jockeys who started out in pony races (which began in Britain in 2004):
James's elder brother went on from a successful pony racing career to be the youngest ever champion conditional jockey in 2014-15 and is now one of the country's top riders, scoring his 57th victory of the season on Ms Parfois in the Listed novice chase at Warwick last Saturday.
Chose racing over showjumping and after winning the Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham as an amateur last March she has won a string of big races on Old Guard, Black Corton and Milansbar as a conditional jockey this season.
From a farming background, rather than a racing background. Competing against Megan Nicholls in pony races led to being invited to ride work for her champion trainer father Paul and he's now an up-and-coming jump jockey.
Won pony races at Ascot and Doncaster in 2008 before becoming a top jump jockey, first with his father and now with Paul Nicholls, riding more than 600 winners in the last five seasons alone.
Rode nine pony race winners, became champion apprentice on the Flat after joining Richard Hannon and had his best year, with 86 winners, in 2017.
Read Julian Muscat's column on pony racing: