Heroics of ageless Sharpe leaves Dowson in running

Tommy DOWSON will always be in the debt of the unheralded racehorse Captain Sharpe.

Rising star: Yorkshire jockey Tommy Dowson, pictured at Wetherby in October, is in the frame for a national award for his ride on Captain Sharpe at Hexham. (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)
Rising star: Yorkshire jockey Tommy Dowson, pictured at Wetherby in October, is in the frame for a national award for his ride on Captain Sharpe at Hexham. (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

This is the horse that provided the jockey with a first career win three years ago.

Now Captain Sharpe’s miraculous victory earlier this summer has left the Yorkshire-based rider in the running for the biggest prize of his burgeoning career – ride of the year honours.

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The 21-year-old will hear next week if he’s won the prestigious award – nominees also include Derek Fox for his Grand National-winning ride on One For Arthur.

Yet, while Fox was the personification of calmness as he executed his hold-up tactics to perfection, Dowson was so far back in a Hexham handicap chase in May that his horse was given up as a lost cause – he was a 999-1 chance at one point.

Still out of range of the TV cameras on the turn for home, the Kenny Johnson-trained horse was a remote fourth at the last before emerging from out of the clouds halfway up the run-in.

It was just in time – the cherubic Dowson, now a conditional rider at the Richmond stables of in-form trainer Phil Kirby, feared he would be admonished for putting up a pound overweight if he lost any photo-finish.

Yet, incredibly, he, and Captain Sharpe, had nearly a length in hand after a breathless finish that epitomised the jockey’s determination to make the most of his opportunities and ride every outsider as if it is the best horse in the race.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Dowson told The Yorkshire Post. “He’s always had plenty of ability but he’s got wiser to the game as he’s got older.

“He’s had nearly 100 starts and won a good race around Cheltenham when he was younger. He just keeps a bit for himself. I didn’t really do anything to be honest. I was riding away all the way up the straight and he just took off.”

One of the more talented young jumps riders in the North, Dowson’s agent is Bruce Jeffrey whose riders have won two of the last five Grand Nationals.

Brought up in County Durham close to the stables of Denys Smith whose Red Alligator won the 1968 National, Dowson’s uncle William McCaskill rode on the Flat.

“I always had ponies, When I was 14 or 15, I started going to Chris Dawson’s CORR, an amateur and point-to-point rider,” he said. “I used to have three days a week at school and then go there on study leave days. I did get seven GCSEs. I was probably quite clever but not much common sense.”

From there, he enjoyed stints with David Thompson before teaming up with Tony Dobbin, the 1997 National-winning rider, and his wife Rose.

Riding work with Dobbin was an education in horsemanship – and life. “He wasn’t afraid to tell you if you’d done something wrong. He could still ride to be fair – it’s just a bit of a beer belly that stops him!” joked the young rider.

He then joined the yard of another Aintree hero, 1979 victor Maurice Barnes, in order to get more rides before joining the aforementioned Kirby a year ago.

“He has 50 to 60 horses. Adam Nicol is first jockey, but I’m getting lots of chances,” said Dowson who is clearly pleased to be associated with an up-and-coming yard that has a potential star horse in Lady Buttons.

“Phil is very good at placing horses in the right races and he has a very good team of staff. We have a head man, Simon (Olley), who used to work for Jonjo O’Neill and he knows every horse better than everybody. Lady Buttons isn’t just advertising the yard, she’s advertising the North.”

Dowson’s close friend is Callum Rodriguez who is shortlisted for Flat ride of the year following his Ebor success on Nakeeta.

Both have the same jockey coach Phil Kinsella. “He’ll be jockey coach of the year if we both win,” says Dowson who hopes to be riding in the bigger races when his time comes.

But he’ll always be in the debt of Captain Sharpe whose 95 runs have yielded £40,000 in prize money. “You have to start somewhere,” adds the jockey who will never forget his roots.