“He’s a dude!” – Alain Cawley on his four time winner Knocknamona
Our racing clubs have been enjoying a fantastic time of things lately, particularly the Rat Pack, whose red and white silks have been carried to victory in four consecutive races by seven year old Trans Island gelding Knocknamona.
Knocknamona winning his first race, at Uttoxeter in November
The team here at Oakwood quite rightly take loads of credit for getting any horse to win four handicaps but another integral factor in Knocknamona’s recent success is Galway born jockey Alain Cawley.
Eight years ago this weekend Alain, 30, was celebrating the biggest win of his career when he steered Joncol to a narrow victory in the Grade 1 Hennessy Gold Cup, now the Irish Gold Cup, at Leopardstown. Champion Irish conditional in 2009, the Hennessy win was the highlight of Alain’s time with boss Paul Nolan but he had plenty of other big race success in his native Ireland, notably a Grade 1 novice hurdle win aboard the popular Shinrock Paddy and a John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown, also on Joncol.
Alain and Joncol after their Hennessy Gold Cup success in 2010
Alain crossed the Irish Sea in 2011 in an attempt to secure more regular rides and he was soon in the winner’s enclosure for his new boss Martin Keighley as he partnered Havingotascoobydo to a wide margin victory in a novices’ chase at Wetherby, he went on to win the Grade 2 Dipper Chase at Cheltenham a few weeks later on the high class Champion Court and since then he’s enjoyed consistent success riding for the likes of Fergal O’Brien, Venetia Williams, Johnny Farrelly, Tom George and Richard Hobson.
Rarely, though, has he struck up such a fruitful relationship with a horse as the one he’s currently enjoying with Knocknamona.
After an inauspicious start to the campaign, when he fell just 50 yards into a chase at Hexham after clipping heels with our other runner, Christmas Twenty, Knocknamona has run up an impressive sequence of results, winning over fences at Uttoxeter and Bangor-on-Dee and over hurdles at Leicester.
Knocknamona storms to success at Bangor-on-Dee in December
Alain was on board for all three of those wins and he was so keen to keep the partnership intact that he made the near 700 mile round trip to Ayr and back last Wednesday just to ride the former pointer in the three mile novices’ handicap chase. He was rewarded with a one length success which the Racing Post handicapper rated as Knocknamona’s best performance so far.
But with the vast majority of his rides coming from local West Country based yards, how did Alain come to be riding for us in the first place?
“Micky needed a jockey who could do 10st for one [Rhythm Of Sound] up at Hexham,” he explains. “Then I went on to ride a couple more for him at 10st, and now I’ll ride the odd one for him whenever he wants me to.”
As well as winning four times on Knocknamona, Alain won aboard Rhythm Of Sound in the blue and yellow of Maybe The Last Time at Sedgefield in November and is currently something of a “go to” jockey for our popular racing clubs.
Alain on Martin Keighley’s high class novice hurdler Creepy at Cheltenham in 2012
“Knocknamona is a lovely horse,” he smiles. “He’s a bit of a dude.
“It took me six and a half hours to get to Ayr on Wednesday and six to get home, but it was worth it. He’s a pleasure to ride and he absolutely loves the heavy ground.”
Alain’s commitment to the cause and his ability in the saddle are just two of the reasons why he’ll hopefully be riding plenty more for us, starting with Silver Tassie in tomorrow’s three mile handicap chase at Newcastle tomorrow, if the meeting passes its morning inspection.
“Alain is very much a part of our small, select team of jockeys,” says the boss.
“He always shows great skill and judgement of pace, and he presents the horse well to an obstacle. He has great enthusiasm for the job, and he really cares for the horses he rides.”
Still based in Cheltenham, Alain doesn’t get too many chances to ride at the top level but he again showed that he’s more than capable on the big stage when he won the Grade 2 mares’ bumper at last year’s Grand National meeting aboard Richard Hobson’s subsequent Listed novice hurdle winner Dame Rose.
Alain and Dame Rose winning at Aintree last April
That win came just days after he returned to the saddle following a nasty shoulder injury sustained in a horrible looking fall from Surf And Turf at Kempton in October 2016, but Alain, who’s now ridden 165 winners under all codes, remains as enthusiastic about his job as he’s ever been and his appetite for success is as strong as ever.
“I ride out every day, for Fergal O’Brien and Venetia Williams mostly but also for Micky, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Dave Loughnane, anyone who wants me really,” he says.
“I just take what I can get and do my best to make the most of every ride.”
Alain is a really nice, hard working lad, we love having him as part of our team and we hope he’ll be riding loads more winners for us over the coming months!