Sean Bowen interview: It’s my first Gold Cup and I know I can win it!
As competitive brothers, the Bowen boys had a penchant for the destructive.
The family home's fireplace — turned into a makeshift goal — bore the brunt of their football games, as they tried to emulate their Chelsea heroes.
The sitting-room sofa would regularly be shunted out of position, Sean and James straddling its either arm and battling one and other in imaginary horse races, whipping and slowly destroying it, much to their parents' dismay.
"That's just the sort of thing you do when you're kids, but it didn't go
down well when they'd just bought a new sofa," recalls middle-of-three son, Sean. "At home, furniture was never in particularly good shape!"
As the brothers grew up, the sofa was replaced as a plaything by a PlayStation, the game G1 Champion Jockey becoming the new obsession.
Bowen's parents, Peter and Karen, have even suggested the game helped guide the racing tactics he uses in the saddle today.
Bowen is not altogether convinced. "I'm not sure whether it helped," he says. "I was mad into racing at the time and wanted any game there was with horses."
So horse-mad that he left school at 14 to pursue his ambitions as a jockey. More than decade on, it has paid off for the 25-year-old, who relatively recently surpassed a century of winners for the first time in a season in the Jump Jockeys' Championship.
Currently second in the standings, he looks unlikely to catch leader Brian Hughes, but has the opportunity to narrow the gap at Cheltenham this week.
His standout mount is, arguably, Noble Yeats in the Gold Cup, the horse Sam Waley-Cohen rode as a 50-1 shot to win the Grand National.
"I've ridden plenty at Cheltenham, but I haven't ridden the Gold Cup before," says Bowen. "So it's nice to get one with a good chance.
"He stays well and you'd rather go in with one with a chance than a 100-1 shot which pulls up."
His cause in the numbers race with Hughes and his other fellow jockeys has not been helped by a series of whip bans, the longest of which resulted in him spending 12 days watching from the sidelines.
His take on the British Horesracing Authority's new whip rules are apparently off limits, but he at least admits that, "not racing and watching is frustrating".
However things end up in the standings, what this season has given him is the belief he can one day be the champion jockey, perhaps as early as next season.
Should he achieve that, it would be no mean feat for Bowen, who was born into racing, with trainers for parents. All he ever wanted to do was be in the saddle, but initially, at least, his body had other ideas.
He was severely allergic to horse hair, but has learned to manage it. "Now, it's mostly fine, because I ride them at races and hand them back," he says. "It's when they start brushing or clipping them. I'll end up sneezing for half an hour afterwards."
Not quite born on a racecourse, he estimates his first outing to one came at the age of 10 days, popped into a horse trailer and carted off to a race meet.
It is all he has ever known and, quite what he would have done if not equine-related, he has no idea.
"When I got to 13 or 14, all I wanted to ever do was ride," he says. "I would ride as many horses as possible as the hours of daylight allowed.
"Mum was mad for me to go to school and dad mad for me to ride out.
"But I did more learning at home than school. I had home schooling, so I could ride out until lunchtime, and it was good motivation — if I was dossing about with home schooling, I wouldn't have got to ride. It feels like it's worked out."
Sean Bowen is currently second in the Jump Jockeys’ Championship. To see the full standings, please visit greatbritishracing.com/championships