RAY Dawson’s celebration after Zain Claudette’s emotional victory at the Ebor Festival was about far more than a horse race.
It was the culmination of the jockey’s journey of redemption after conquering the personal demons – including alcohol addiction – that were derailing his riding career.
No wonder he stood up in his riding irons – and gave out a deafening shriek – after landing the Sky Bet Lowther Stakes.
Now he hopes the fairytale continue when he partners the Ismail Mohammed-trained filly – one of this season’s most exciting two-year-olds – to Group One glory in today’s Juddmonte Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket.
Life up until last year had been a rollercoaster for the 28-year-old, failing to hold down a number of jobs with David O’Meara, John Quinn and Mick Appleby due to personal problems following his decision to leave Ireland just before he turned 22.
Had it not been for a car crash in Newmarket while under the influence of alcohol in May 2019, then the opportunity to ride Zain Claudette may never have happened, with Dawson claiming the incident helped change his wayward lifestyle.
“I left Mick’s in the same manner how I left every yard and went to Jane Chapple-Hyam’s,” he said this week.
“People my whole life said to stay away from Newmarket but it was the best thing that ever happened. It was a rocky road but I had my licence with Jane.
“I then got drunk one night and crashed my car in Newmarket on May 4, 2019, and that was the last time I had a drink.
“Whatever it was about that night I thought, ‘I have to stop this as it is crazy’.
“That was the start of it and from then my career has taken off. I’ve put down the drink for good this time and got the proper help and continued to get the help.”
Dawson, who now has more than 50 winners to his name this season, has plenty of people to thank for helping him get back on track, including the Professional Jockeys Association and the Sporting Chance charity headed by former footballer Tony Adams.
But arguably none more so than his partner Abbie Wibre, who he met at Chapple-Hyam’s. They now have a daughter called Lila. He explained: “Abbie was a big part of why I got sober. I wasn’t going to go into work that day when she started her trial but a friend of mine rang me and said ‘you better go in today as you’ve missed a few days’.
“I went in late and that is when I met her. I was keen on her but not so the other way round as she wouldn’t give me her name.
“She messaged me on Facebook asking if I had a pair of size four shoes she could borrow for evening stables.
“We then went on a date. She didn’t think it was a date. She thought I was just being friendly but that is where we clicked really well.”
Away from track the support of loved ones may have helped Dawson return his life to normal, but much of his success in the saddle can be attributed to his agent Adam Brook as well as opportunities given to him by trainers Roger Varian and Robert Cowell.
He said: “Adam Brook, my agent, is amazing. He actually turned me down initially. I rang him as I needed a new agent.
“His lads were doing well and he was young and hungry as he wants to be at the top level.
“Fortunately enough he rang me a few months later and since day one we have clicked and get on well together. If it wasn’t for Adam I don’t think I would be where I am today. He is big part of the wheel that turns.”
While feelings between Dawson and his partner may have been one way at first, it was very much an instant attraction with Zain Claudette.
He said: “She went to Goodwood first time out and I was supposed to be banned. I was in a piece of work with her and I thought ‘what is that?’ as she left me for dust. I rang my agent and said we need to move my ban from Friday to Saturday but he said you can’t do that as it is a big day and I said we have to as there is a filly running which I think might be nice.
“The whole week I thought, ‘have I made the right decision?’
“I was looking at the price (Zain Cladette was returned at 25-1) and she kept drifting and I thought, ‘what have I done?’ but she only got beaten on the line by one of George Boughey’s called Hellomydarlin, which was heart-breaking but at least we knew she was nice.
“All the hype was on Sandrine in the Lowther but I was thinking if we can get first run on her we will have the better of her.
“She went there that day and beat Sandrine by a length and she has got better since then. Going to the Cheveley Park with her on Saturday is weird as last season was what I describe as my first proper one riding and here I am just over a year later I’m now riding a horse that is near favourite for a Group One.
“I certainly wouldn’t swap her.”
Paul Townend is facing an indefinite spell on the sidelines after dislocating his shoulder in a fall at Listowel on Wednesday.
The reigning champion jockey – who returned to action in July having suffered a foot injury at Fairyhouse’s Easter meeting came to grief two out aboard Jessica Harrington’s Port Stanley.
His retained trainer Willie Mullins is hoping for a swift return to action, but Townend will seek specialist advice next week.
He said: “Paul has a dislocated shoulder. I don’t know how long it is going to take and Paul doesn’t know either. Sometimes you make a quick recovery, that’s what we’re hoping, other times it takes a bit longer.”
“He is going to see a specialist early next week.”
Townend was booked to ride Dysart Diamond and Sapphire Lady for Mullins at Listowel on Friday and missed a smart winner in the first-named mare.
Sean Flanagan duly stepped in to take his first ride for the Closutton handler in the Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle, with Dysart Diamond winning by a length and quarter.
Mullins added: “I asked David Casey who was the best available, he said Sean, so I took him and it was a nice spare.
“He took the outside route when things didn’t go well at the start and it seemed to suit her and she jumped beautifully for him.”