Drowne beats a path back to the treadmill

Broken leg halts breakthrough year of a jockey determined to start again in quest to escape ranks of the journeymen

When you watch it on television, it looks rather pleasant being a jockey. You turn up at the races, get swished round the track by a swift athlete, explain how you were somehow the leading figure in the victorious partnership, and then retire to count the loot.

When you watch it on television, it looks rather pleasant being a jockey. You turn up at the races, get swished round the track by a swift athlete, explain how you were somehow the leading figure in the victorious partnership, and then retire to count the loot.

This seems to be the lot for the celebrity riders. Yet, for all the spangled little men riding winners, there has got to be a greater body of losers.

Steven Drowne was part of this underbelly for many years until this season, when he appeared to be on the brink of a breakthrough to a new level. A Coventry Stakes victory on Mick Channon's Cd Europe suggested he was about to become a mover in this capricious game, but then came a far less pleasant breakthrough.

On 30 June, TG's Girl was on her way to post for the Arena Leisure Maiden Stakes at Folkestone when she went a little bonkers. The filly crashed into the rails and threw Drowne to the floor, breaking his leg just above the ankle in the process.

The 28-year-old recently started riding out again, but was told on Tuesday that he will have to miss another six weeks before he can return to race riding. For him, riding's heaven will have to wait. "It wasn't the best of breaks, just above the ankle," he said yesterday. "It had to be screwed and plated. The surgeon said that if it broke again and I got an infection it could be the end of my career.

"I might get the last two weeks of the turf season in now and then I'll be riding on the all-weather right through the winter. I certainly don't need a holiday soon."

It has all been a considerable trapdoor for the only son of a Devon farmer who has been riding winners for over 10 years. Drowne is a graduate of the British Racing School, a man who has ridden lots of losers, but is no loser himself. He appreciates the successes that come and is no stranger to the yeoman qualities of hard work and virtue. Trainer Toby Balding's wife Caro calls him "the Wonderful Steven" because of his copybook atttitude to work and life. Good manners, hard work and professionalism are part of his fabric. Yet consistent glorious achievement is not.

No-one knows if good horses will go slower just because Steven Drowne, and many men like him, are on them. Chances are we will never find out. But if you want persistence, there are few with better qualifications. "It does get to you riding bad horses day after day," he says. "You're always half hoping that you'll get on one that's going to take you up there. What I do is a lot harder than being a top jockey. Me, and people like me, chase round the country, riding everywhere. When you get the profile of someone like Frankie and Kieren, at least you can pick and choose when you ride. And you can ride six good horses and come back fresh, whereas just one bad one can bottom you."

Cd Europe apart, Drowne's greatest moments have been a victory on Sea Freedom in the Ascot Stakes at the Royal meeting in 1997, and a neck second on Golden Silca to Hula Angel in last year's Irish 1,000 Guineas. Even that exercise showed, however, how difficult it is to climb out of the barrel. The Classic should have been Drowne's stirrup to wider public consciousness, but, instead, he did not get a mention. Willie Carson told BBC viewers that Richard Hughes had been on the horse.

Drowne's task now is to make sure he is never again confused with another. It will not be easy. His bed was still warm at Channon's yard when Craig Williams, the Australian who has made such an impact this season, slipped between the sheets. As in the past, Drowne can only tighten his belt, tighten his resolve and impress with manner and results.

"It's not too bad now because I can get around and do some gardening, but when the cast was on and I was on crutches that was the worst," he says. "To look on the bright side, at least I did have a couple of high-profile winners before the accident. If it had happened last year I might have been completely forgotten. Now people might be waiting for me to come back. I think, I hope, the old contacts will be fine.

"The most disappointing thing was that I was starting to get on horses at Channon's that had the class to win Group races. I reckon I've missed two or three Group races already. This should have been my breakthrough year."

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