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Bowman's mentor turned mate

7 min read
Ron Quinton has seen Hugh Bowman go from country kid to the next big thing to now, arguably, the best jockey in the world. He speaks to TDN AusNZ about Bowman's development.

When Ron Quinton's phone rang on Cox Plate Eve, he was not surprised to find Hugh Bowman on the other end of the line.

Quinton has played a lot of roles to Bowman. Firstly, he had been master to the young apprentice as he learned his craft, then a mentor throughout Bowman's burgeoning career. Now Quinton describes the champion jockey as a great friend and on Friday night, 24 hours out from the biggest ride of his life, Bowman needed an ear to bend.

"He's never frightened to pick up the phone and have a chat," Quinton told TDN AusNZ. "He and Christine, since I lost my wife, a few months off two years ago now, they have been very supportive of me that way. I regard him as a very close friend."

"We had a chat on Friday night. Just a general chat. He just needed someone to talk to." - Ron Quinton

"We had a chat on Friday night. Just a general chat. He just needed someone to talk to."

Quinton has always admired Bowman's ability to keep calm, but with enormous public expectation over Winx's (Street Cry {Ire}) shot at a fourth Cox Plate, he wasn't surprised that he needed to talk through how to handle the experience with a man who has been such a major part of his success.

Hugh Bowman

"He'd be one of the coolest-headed jockeys you’d see. Sometimes I used to think he might be too cool. But as we discussed the other night, the amount of pressure on Chris Waller and Hugh Bowman going into Saturday would have been huge," he said.

"He'd be one of the coolest-headed jockeys you’d see. Sometimes I used to think he might be too cool." - Ron Quinton

"No person, no matter how cool, would not be affected by that. We discussed the race briefly on Friday night and everything he talked about on Friday night was exactly what he did on Saturday."

So cool is Bowman in the saddle, that even with exposure he has gained riding Winx, he has been hard to get a read on. That country boy demeanour has served as a useful poker face during the Winx years, where he has more attention on him than any other jockey in Australia

Quinton's insight into Bowman is fascinating because he knows him as both as a jockey and as a man. Both grew up near Dunedoo in central western New South Wales, albeit 30-odd years apart.

Watch: the Melbourne Cup tour to Dunedoo

The making of the man

When Bowman came to Quinton as an apprentice, he was far from the finished article, but Quinton said he was already on his way to success.

"For a start, he's a horseman. He got all that grounding from up where he came from, growing up with his Dad. That is where it all began," he said.

"From the time I came across him, he'd ridden quite a number of winners in the country area before he came to town. He was well on his way when he came to me."

"That put him in a very good position and enabled him to get going quickly."

Bowman would serve two years with Quinton, winning an apprentices' premiership in the process. But it was his attitude as much as his ability which his boss particularly liked.

"After work, he was one of those guys who wanted to hang around and talk about racing." - Ron Quinton

"The thing that impressed myself and my wife Margaret was that during his apprenticeship period, after work, he was one of those guys who wanted to hang around and talk about racing. He was passionate about the racing industry and being a jockey," he said.

"He had that real keen interest and he wanted to improve all the time and I think with any good sportsman, that's how they have to think."

Ron Quinton and Hugh Bowman

Good horses make good jockeys

Bowman has parlayed that skill in the saddle and willingness to learn into an extraordinary career with 81 Group 1 victories, 22 of them with his horse of a lifetime, Winx.

Quinton thinks as much as Bowman has been a huge part of the Winx story, she has been a massive part of his development as a jockey.

"What keeps making you a better jockey is riding better horses," he said.

"Good horses make good jockeys, but you have to earn that respect to be able to secure those rides and that's what most of the great jockeys do. He's earned that chance to be riding all those great horses."

"What keeps making you a better jockey is riding better horses." - Ron Quinton

Quinton is not a man who abides hyperbole, but his assessment of where Bowman ranks among the best jockey is fairly straight forward.

"I don’t like to compare too many jockeys. We’ve got some great jockeys in this country and to compare it, it can be a bit unfair," he said.

"I'm very close to Hughie and I think he's earned that reputation as the best jockey in the world. He's sought after in Japan, Hong Kong and those places, so I don’t think anyone can argue that he is number 1."

"If you watch any of the great sportsman, whether it be a jockey, or a cricketer or a tennis player or whoever, they always have got plenty of time to do what they are doing." - Ron Quinton

Quinton again brings Bowman's greatness back to his ability to handle pressure and never panic.

"Someone said to me one day, if you watch any of the great sportsman, whether it be a jockey, or a cricketer or a tennis player or whoever, they always have got plenty of time to do what they are doing, I think it’s a very good saying," he said.

Winx v Kingston Town

And what of Winx, who has done something no-one has thought was possible in winning four Cox Plates and 29 consecutive races.

Quinton, with 41 Group 1 wins to his credit in the saddle, has seen plenty of great horses in over 50 years in the industry and rode Kingston Town (Bletchingly) to win one of his three Cox Plates.

While Winx's record is superior to all who have come before her, Quinton thinks the margin between her and the likes of Kingston Town is considerably less than the current public sentiment would indicate.

"You can get into a few arguments if you said she wasn't (the best)," he said. "But Kingston Town, he's not far away, don’t worry about that. He may even be level pegging with her."

"Kingston Town, he's not far away, don’t worry about that. He may even be level pegging with her." - Ron Quinton

"Chris Waller has handled this mare so well. He has limited her runs per prep and that's why they have got the longevity out of her, whereas a horse like Kingston Town ran pretty regularly and probably ran a few times where he had no chance."

Kingston Town won 30 from 41 races and competed in two Melbourne Cups and a Caulfield Cup, while Winx has won 33 of 39 and hasn’t been beyond the 2040m of a Cox Plate since her 3-year-old days.

"Kingston Town's record was pretty bloody good as well," Quinton said. "You are talking about 36 years ago for Kingston Town, so it’s hard to make that comparison."

Watch: Kingston Town, the three-time Cox Plate winner