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Last Updated:  Thursday, 6 March, 2003, 11:44 GMT
Ireland's Likely Lad
By Frank Keogh

LIMESTONE LAD
Age: Eleven
Owner: James Bowe
Trainer: James Bowe
Asst trainer: Michael Bowe
Runs: 63
Wins: 35
Prize money: 500,000+

Limestone Lad will raise the spirits of a nation if he succeeds on his date with destiny at Cheltenham.

Ireland has a long-standing love affair with horse racing, and love nothing better than the notion of an underdog triumphing against all the odds.

And the odds have always been stacked against a small farming family, responsible for just three horses, claiming the scalps of National Hunt's big guns.

But that is exactly what the remarkable father-and-son partnership of James and Michael Bowe have done.

The 40-year-old bachelor Michael effectively trains Limestone Lad, putting in 14-hour days as he looks after the racehorses, along with 60 cattle and 150 sheep.

From their farm in Gathabawn, County Kilkenny, the pair have sent out a prolific racehorse who has amassed more than 500,000 in prize money.

Now the gelding bids to cap his career at the pinnacle of jump racing, the Cheltenham Festival.

Less than an hour before the Gold Cup on Thursday 13 March, he will bid to go one better in the Bonusprint Stayers' Hurdle than his narrow second in 2000 after a disrupted preparation.

That evening three years ago, Bowe Jnr happened to be sat at a neighbouring restaurant table to me just hours after his pride and joy had failed by a length to overcome Bacchanal.

Philosophical would be an under-statement for his outlook. Unassuming is not quite appropriate. The man was a delight to speak to.

DAY IN LIFE OF MICHAEL BOWE
0630 Feed racehorses and 60 cattle
Mid-morning After quick breakfast, exercise the racehorses - Limestone Lad, Solerina and Florida Coast
Afternoon Muck out stables, grooms horses
2200 Horses' final meals

On a day when champion trainer Martin Pipe's Gold Cup contender Gloria Victis died, Bowe was simply happy to have his horse in one piece.

He reflected on Limestone Lad's brave performance and how the horse had taken badly to the trip over from Ireland.

Arriving four days before the Stayers' Hurdle, the horse barely ate or drank throughout Festival week, but still ran a blinder.

Some wags suggested he was the only Irish traveller to Cheltenham who did not drink that week.

Bowe suggested he would make an even better steeplechaser over the bigger obstacles, although that prediction was not borne out by his later performances

But most of all he gave the impression of a true gent. A man keen on victory, but gracious in defeat.

And all the time he would emphasise that the horse "just loves to race".

It is this love of racing, and a phenomenal win ratio of 55% from more than 60 races, that has helped endear him to the public.

This is thought to be a post-war record for the most National Hunt wins in Ireland.

All Limestone Lad's victories have come in his homeland and four have been at Grade One level.

He even had the cheek to defeat three-time Champion Hurdle winner Istabraq when the latter was at his peak.

Limestone Lad was second to Bacchanal in the 2000 Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham despite not being 100% fit.

If the gallant horse can go one better this time, he can safely join Istabraq in Ireland's well-stocked racing hall of fame.




CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2003

MEETING REVIEW
CORNELIUS LYSAGHT

BIG-RACE ACTION
DAILY REPORTS

PHOTO GALLERIES

JOCKEYS PROFILED
CHELTENHAM JOCKEYS PROFILED
 
TRAINERS PROFILED
 


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