Racing: Drowne rides waves of fortune to reach the promised land

A jockey that has long struggled to emerge above the ranks of journeymen has at last found a home at the highest level
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The Independent Online

Steve Drowne will attend Ascot's King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes meeting this weekend and Glorious Goodwood the following week with a song in his heart. He will probably whistle as he gets out of his car and skip his way into the weighing room. Life will feel extraordinarily good.

Yet it has not always been this pleasant for the jockey who has for so long strained to remove his label of journeyman - which has proved as difficult to shift as a leech.

At 32, Drowne goes into the turf's great high summer fixtures as the prime victor from the last. He rode five winners at Newmarket's July meeting to at last confirm he is a player as well as a gentleman.

"It was mega," Drowne says. "Only a couple of years ago I used to hate the top meetings. There weren't many rides and most of mine used to get tailed off. It was a waste of time. I'd rather have been at the little meetings having a winner.

"Now I'm getting on horses that are worthy of being there. I'm going there with live chances. I'm not going just to be an also-ran any more.

"Once you start getting on good horses for people like Mick Channon and Roger Charlton then other people start using you as well. It's the snowball effect. You just gradually grind your way up."

It is a particularly suitable verb. Steve Drowne is no flash in the pan. He, in fact, has been a very slow cooker. Now, though, Drowne is on the outskirts of his destination. All this jockey has ever wanted is the luxury of allying his talents with quality horses.

"My ambition is 100 winners with a Group One in there," he says. "It's all about the big winners now. The Group races and the big handicaps." Queen's Logic's success in the 2001 Cheveley Park Stakes and Mail The Desert's Moyglare Stud Stakes last season are the current entries at the highest level.

At start of play yesterday, Drowne was sixth in the jockeys' championship with 61 winners. His popularity is such that he has been called on for 572 rides, a figure beaten only by Kieren Fallon and Darryll Holland.

Nevertheless, it has been neither the swiftest nor most incident-free of journeys, but that merely compounds the satisfaction Drowne now feels. "For a long time I didn't expect to get this far," he says. "Five years ago I'd be riding in two-year-old and three-year-old maidens and I wouldn't have a hope. I'd be riding for little trainers and the big yards would mop them all up.

"But I never got dispirited because I didn't know what the good life was like. That was all I knew. It might feel like knocking my head against the wall if I had to go back and do it all again now."

Even if Drowne did smash his head against brick it is unlikely that it would swell. One of the principal reasons that Drowney - as he is known by the masters of swift wit and repartee in the weighing room - is so well regarded is the natural ease with which he has taken his near twilight success. He has felt no need to build an extension to the personality.

There have been times when the whole dwelling could have collapsed. To this day, he remains vulnerable to the more impetuous owners, who, if they cannot be associated with a winning horse, quickly find another animal, the scapegoat.

Thus it was with Zafeen, whose failure in the Irish 2,000 Guineas was somehow attributed to his jockey. On better ground, in the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, the colt showed his true form for Holland. "After Zafeen won I was hating the place," Drowne says. "For half an hour afterwards I was asking myself why do I bother? Why do I traipse around at five o'clock every morning and have this happen? But it soon wore off."

Silca's Gift in the Albany Stakes and Holborn's Windsor Castle Stakes win helped to complete the soothing process. "By Saturday night," Drowne says, "I was back in love again."

It is a process with which Drowne is familiar. "I broke my leg and missed Tobougg when he was the champion two-year-old," he says. "When he won the Dewhurst I remember thinking I might just have lost my chance. That it was going to be relegation to just being a handicap jockey all my life.

"But the next year I got on Queen's Logic and Harmonic Way. They got me back and maybe even put me higher than I was before. Even then, though, we never got Queen's Logic going as a three-year-old.

"You have to enjoy anything this game gives you because you never know what is just around the corner to kick you in the plums."

Now the attitude to Drowne has altered, even if he remains gratifyingly the same. "Things do change the higher you get," he says. "You get remembered more for the muck-ups than any wins you might have.

"But our performance is so much influenced by the horse. I would put the split at 80-20. If the horse can't go, there is absolutely nothing you can do to help. You've always got to have the best, or nearly the best, horse in the race, to win.

"People sometimes talk about a jockey being in form, but if you look closely you'd realise that it's the yards he rides for that are in form rather than the jockey himself. That's what happened to me at Newmarket."

You can tell the good guys by the quantity of credit they take.