While discussing his childhood growing up in rural Pembrokeshire, Sean Bowen, champion jockey and son of renowned horse trainers Peter and Karen Bowen, makes a somewhat surprising admission.

"I never really liked horses at all, to be honest," said the 26-year-old. "I didn't really like racing, I would rather just be playing football."

His younger brother and fellow champion jockey, James, 22, concurs. "Mum and dad had obviously trained since we were born but I wasn’t really into horses at all until I was about nine. I didn’t want to get led round on a pony, I wanted to be let off so I could go flat out everywhere!

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"When I was old enough to do that, I started pony racing and I enjoyed that, we had some fast ponies which helped. But that was when I got the bug, really."

With James hooked, Sean soon followed suit. "I was stuck in the house on my own while James was riding out in the mornings," he laughed. "So I had to do something! There was nobody to play football with anymore, so then it was horses."

From not riding at all to riding every single day, the Bowen brothers were suddenly "mad keen" on the sport they had grown up surrounded by but never indulged in themselves. Spending the summer holidays racing their cousins on ponies and backed by their parents, it was not long before they left school behind to focus on their blossoming careers.

"I wasn't very clever at school," says a self-deprecating Sean. "So I was always riding. I left a bit early and as soon as I turned 16 I was able to turn amateur and started from there." Before long, aged just 14, his younger brother was joining him at their father's stables in Yet-Y-Rhug to be home-schooled.

"Well, Sean got home schooled, I didn’t," James clarified, laughing. "I got ‘home schooled’. In Year 9, I was only going to school three days a week as I’d go riding out on Tuesdays and Fridays. There was no point going to school then as I was so far behind.

"Sean had a tutor when he came out of school, but when I got to that stage I don’t think mum and dad bothered! Dad would always say ‘You don’t need GCSEs to ride horses’. He loved that line!"

The brothers showed little interest in horses as children but were soon hooked on racing
The brothers showed little interest in horses as children but were soon hooked on racing

Their dad was right. Today, the brothers are two of Wales' most successful sportsmen and are very highly regarded in the world of horseracing. Sean has led by example, claiming his first Grade 1 victory in the Liverpool Hurdle in 2019, before winning the Tolworth Novices' Hurdle on Grand National weekend two years later on board Metier, a horse trained by his parents, in what he regards as the biggest day of his career so far.

As a teenager, he also won two sought-after Lester Awards and was named the youngest ever Champion Conditional Jockey in 2015. However, his record was later broken by his younger brother, who also became the youngest ever jockey to ride the winner of the Welsh Grand National in 2018, when he was aged just 16.

James, who rode 57 winners in his first season in racing, then went on to be named the BBC Wales Young Sports Personality of the Year, while he also found himself in the final three for the broadcaster's national award. Having just won his first Grade One race, he has his eyes set on a successful future, with Cheltenham Festival next up on March 12.

But for all of their success, it is with no disrespect to say that few outside the horseracing community would recognise either of the Bowens if they passed them in the street. While they are two of their country's most exciting sporting talents, and efforts are being made to promote the sport far and wide, quite little is known of the brothers off the racecourse - not that they're overly bothered about that.

"It has always been, for some reason, a sport that goes quite unrecognised," said Sean. "I actually think it has grown in the last couple of years, people like Great British Racing are really trying to push the sport and it's reaching a wider audience. Obviously a lot of people go to Cheltenham and Aintree but don't really know what goes on day-to-day.

"It's quite nice when people don't recognise you, you can just carry on your normal life, but obviously when people do become public figures, it comes with its perks as well. It's not anything that myself and James are worried about, though."

Sean and James are both champions with the latter winning the Welsh Grand National in 2018
Sean and James are both champions with the latter winning the Welsh Grand National in 2018

Nodding, James added: "I think the general public tend to see jockeys as people wearing white trousers, colourful jackets and helmets, and if they saw us walking down the street with normal clothes on they probably wouldn't recognise us. We will probably never be celebrities as such but I can't say that bothers me."

What both men agree on is that there is far more to horseracing than casual fans tend to appreciate, including the extreme lengths that jockeys go to ahead of races and the extreme dangers that they take in their stride out on the racecourse. Talking through what a race week usually looks like for him, James reveals that he occasionally has to cut close to half a stone in weight in a matter of a hours ahead of competing.

"I ride out four or five days a week, usually getting up at around 6am," he said. "I try to go the gym at least three days a week and then when it comes to the races, I have to sweat to lose weight when I get there, I try to get there two hours before a race and go for a run or get on the bike. That makes life a bit harder for me, Sean’s got a bit luckier there with his weight.

"You have cheat days, obviously, but it’s always on your mind and you’re always watching what you eat and doing the exercises that goes with it. Say I needed a riding weight of 10st 7lb, I’m probably 10st 12lb now, so I’d have 5lb to lose. I’d do all that on the day, get up and sweat in the bath before I do anything. I’d go and ride out and hopefully get to the races two hours before and lose two or three more pounds there."

Sean is cheered home by James
Sean is cheered home by James

Achieving such a drastic weight loss in such a short space of time seems nothing short of impossible on the face of it, but James brushes it off, saying it's "just part of the job". He added: "When you explain to people what you have to do, they think you’re absolutely crazy. But, for me, I really enjoy it and I don’t mind sweating half a stone off to ride a horse that’s got a chance of winning. It’s something that a lot of jockeys have to do, probably more on the flat, but I don’t mind doing it because I love the job."

Sean admits that his daily routine has changed somewhat as he's been recovering from an injury sustained in a nasty fall on Boxing Day, bringing us on to the dangers that the sport can pose. Both brothers have spent time out injured, with James breaking bones and even swallowing his tongue after being knocked unconscious in a fall at his training grounds in 2021, only to be saved from choking by the legendary AP McCoy.

"I can't remember that one," he laughs. "So stuff like that doesn't bother me at all now, really. I was really lucky up until about two years ago with injury and then they’ve all seemingly come at once. I broke my arm in February and tried to get back for the Grand National, but I ended up pushing it too hard and broke it again, which meant I needed surgery. I tried to come back a couple of months after that but there was something else wrong with it and it all just went to pot. It took ages for me to come back."

Admitting that his spell out injured started to "eat him up inside," James is relieved to be back in action and says he is "enjoying it more than ever now," with his absence giving him a greater appreciation of the sport he is coming to master. "Coming back felt really good," he said. "I had to work really, really hard to return but I've have a good season since."

Both men have been tipped for big futures
Both men have been tipped for big futures

"Our sport is dangerous," added Sean when asked if the threat of injury had ever made him second guess his career choice. "But you don’t ever grow up thinking ‘this is dangerous’, you grow up loving the sport and loving riding. It’s something that comes with the job.

"If you can stay injury-free then great, but it’s inevitable at some stage that you’re going to get some kind of injury. It can be frustrating when you’re sat on the sofa watching everyone else win, it’s never nice, but it's just part of it."

Whether it be brutal injuries, mind-boggling weight targets or the fences stretched out before them on a racecourse, the Bowen brothers seem to take everything in their stride. After all, that is what makes winners winners and both men will be hoping for more success at Cheltenham this year.

"I'll probably be there on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday," says James, who admits he's reliant on a "bit of luck" when it comes to where and when he'll be riding. Sean, meanwhile, will be there on Tuesday and Thursday.

"I'm obviously searching for as many winners as I can," he said. "I've got a couple of nice rides there but on Gold Cup day, I'll be at a new meet at Ffos Las Racecourse, so hopefully that can get a good crowd too. Cheltenham is obviously a very hard place to win so it would be great to get a couple of winners there."

Sean and James will be riding during The Cheltenham Festival (12-15 March), one of Britian's Premier Raceday fixtures. To find out more visit greatbritishracing.com/premier-raceday