Dowson relishing chance on star mare Buttons

HORSE racing’s fickleness is illustrated by the contrasting fortunes of jump jockeys Adam Nicol and Tommy Dowson as the brilliant Lady Buttons looks to add to her big race record at Doncaster.

Jockey Tommy Dowson partners Lady Buttons for the first time today.
Jockey Tommy Dowson partners Lady Buttons for the first time today.

For, while Nicol, an 11-time winner on the ever popular horse, misses out after breaking his leg on New Year’s Day, the cherubic Dowson takes over the reins a week after returning from his own injury torment.

And while Dowson is attached to the North Yorkshire stables of in-form trainer Phil Kirby, it is a significant show of faith because the stature of today’s Grade Two Mares’ Hurdle means the jockey, 23 next week, can’t use his three pound weight allowance afforded to riders with less than 75 wins to their name.

After high-profile successes at Wetherby, Newbury and Doncaster, today’s test could be a final outing for Lady Buttons, one of the most versatile horses in the country, before a tilt at the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Phil Kirby's stable star Lady Buttons is pictured winning at Wetherby earlier in the season under the now injury-sidelined Adam Nicol.

“It is really good of them to put me on such a good horse,” the likable Dowson told The Yorkshire Post. “It makes you ride a lot better when the people you are riding for have so much faith in you.”

It is also testament to Dowson’s own powers of recovery after a heavy fall at Haydock last November saw him break a collarbone – and endure a spell on the sidelines – as Nicol and Lady Buttons came to the fore.

However this only tells part of the story. Not only was the collarbone broken in three places, but the impact of the fall snapped a plate that had been inserted in the jockey’s joint following a previous fall.

And the subsequent operation became even more complicated when surgeons had to drill round the bone to get the screws out. They had to leave one in, but there is no doubting Dowson’s form fitness.

Lady Buttons and rider Jennie Durrans at Phil Kirby's North Yorkshire stables.

His first ride back was a winning one when the Kirby-trained Suggestion won impressively at Haydock last Saturday before Northern Girl prevailed 24 hours later at Ayr.

“I wouldn’t even know it was broken. It is 100 per cent,” said Dowson. “When Phil told me I was riding Lady Buttons, I was delighted, really happy. I would loved to have ridden her, but I am just a conditional so I couldn’t expect to when there are more senior jockeys about. It was a surprise. I’ve sat on Lady Buttons three or four times. She’s very laid back and takes everything in her stride. Other horses might be struggling in a piece of work but it is a piece of cake to her. Phil’s horses are flying and, hopefully, it will continue.”

Lady Buttons had been entered in a mares’ chase at Huntingdon yesterday, but Kirby – and owner Jayne Sivills whose own purple attire will be colour co-ordinated with her horse’s racing colours – opted for Doncaster because of the likelihood of better ground in a race previously won by subsequently Champion Hurdle winner Annie Power amongst others.

It also sees a rematch with North Yorkshire farmer Philip Atkinson’s Irish Roe who Lady Buttons beat at Wetherby last November on the very day when Dowson was recording the biggest win of his career on Nautical Nitwit in the Grade Two West Yorkshire Hurdle.

“I really feel sorry for Adam, but I know he will give Tommy any advice he needs and that he, too, will be cheering for the horse,” said Sivills whose family own and run The Tiger Inn hostelry at Easington near Whitby. “It has been an unbelievable season. I didn’t even think we would be giving her a Cheltenham entry, never mind in a race like the Champion Chase. It’s just nice that she has warranted an entry.

“I rang Cheltenham in the week to see what the situation was with tickets – it’s all new to us – and the lady was very kind. When I gave her the name of the horse, she said ‘what a wonderful mare you have got there’.

“She’s the talk of the town locally and strangers now come up to us at the races. It’s unreal. I put updates on Facebook and the amount of people who comment, people from all over, it’s nice.

“It’s really good for Phil and the whole yard. It’s helping put them on the map as well. As for Altior and the Champion Chase, he’s the best horse around – but a lot can happen in a race. We think Buttons is better over fences. You’ve got to be in it to win it. We may never get this far with another horse. You’ve got to live the dream.”

Just as Tommy Dowson will do today.