IT took just 57.34 seconds for Steve Drowne to put 18 months of personal heartache and torment behind him when the unfancied filly Jwala sprinted to Group One glory in the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes.
He had to wage and win a bureaucratic battle to regain his driving and riding licences after suffering two inexplicable fainting fits at home early last year – and then found it difficult to re-establish himself because of the emergence of new stars like James Doyle, who went on to enjoy global success on horses like Roger Charlton’s Cityscape and Al Kazeem.
“You miss a month and I reckon you lose 30 per cent of your rides. Work it out from that,” said Drowne, who had to enlist his local MP to arrange the necessary health checks for the DVLA to renew his driving licence.
Only then could the British Horseracing Authority sanction his belated return to the saddle after months of wrangling and it is still desperately tough – Drowne, 41, had just four rides between Ripon’s meeting last Saturday and Jwala’s 40-1 success for trainer Robert Cowell.
Though Jwala had course form – she had won the John Smith’s City Wall Stakes last month (and with Drowne in the saddle) – she was last of 17 when the Bryan Smart-trained Moviesta won the King George Stakes at Glorious Goodwood in the colours of football manager Harry Redknapp.
In a complete reversal of form, it was Moviesta who finished last of the 17 runners yesterday following the withdrawals, among others, of Robin Bastiman’s dual winner Borderlescott as a result of heavy overnight rain.
Naturally disappointed, Hambleton-based Smart knows that his three-year-old still has time on his side and is still to fully mature.
“Forget it. He was flat. It’s just one of those things,” he said.
“He never looked like winning. Put a line through it.”
Boroughbridge-based jockey Paul Mulrennan’s assessment was comparable, adding: “We’ve probably gone to the well too many times with him this season.
“There will be other days,” he said.
Jwala, who had banged her head on the stalls at Goodwood and was found to have fractured an eye socket, held on gamely to repel the market leaders Shea Shea and former Nunthorpe winner Sole Power in a frantic finish – half a length and nose separated the first three – with Tim Easterby’s Hamish McGonagall a whisker away in fourth.
Third in last year’s Nunthorpe after David Allan had set a scorching pace, the rider was slightly more conservative on this horse, who is so fragile that the horse prepared for this race by swimming at Colin Rae’s equine pool near Thirsk.
“He’s done a fantastic job,” said Great Habton-based Easterby, who intended pulling out his stable stalwart if the rain had not softened the ground.
“Unbelievable. Fantastic. We didn’t think we had him right. He’s been swimming for the last three weeks. He’s all joints and heart, but he’s still got it.”
This morning’s check of Hamish McGonagall’s legs will determine whether he will head back to France in early October and look to improve on last year’s third place showing in the Prix de l’Abbaye, Europe’s sprint championship.
Easterby hopes so.
“He has to have juice in the ground, but this really has to be one of his best performances,” he said.
As for Jwala, the Prix de l’Abbaye will be her swansong before retiring to stud.
Yet this was Steve Drowne’s day. Six years after the Devon farmer’s son last rode a Group One winner on Sakhee’s Secret, this Professional Jockeys’ Association stalwart deserved each and every one of the plaudits bestowed upon him last night by his weighing room colleagues.
“Everybody knows what problems I’ve had but you just need the right horses and, thankfully, she’s come along,” he said.
“I spent five months being misdiagnosed, the problem should only have kept me out for two weeks and if it wasn’t for my MP Claire Perry I could still be watching at home.
“It was so frustrating, that I had to start all over again from scratch.”