Irish driver gets win on the board
By Garrick Knight
It’s a long way from Ireland to Palmerston North, but junior driver Jonathan Cowden has zero regrets about venturing to the other side of the world.
The 19-year-old Celtic lad recorded his first winner in New Zealand when reining home Benjamin Button at Manawatu Raceway on Tuesday.
Cowden is on a three-month working holiday based with Jay and Sailesh Abernethy in South Auckland, the latter of which trains Benjamin Button.
“I wanted to do something different over the winter and was thinking about America or Canada.
“But its winter there too, and even colder than back home, so I wasn’t going to get too many opportunities.
“So I left it and was thinking about looking in to it again next year.”
Enter his friend and fellow horseman, Sean Kane, who had previously worked in New Zealand with the Abernethys.
“Sean text me and said Jay was looking for someone to help him out down here.
“I got in touch, Jay said come down, and here I am.”
While the circumstances weren’t ideal, Jay Abernethy breaking his wrist recently in a spill at Cambridge recently has worked out in Cowden’s favour and Tuesday’s win was his 23rd drive.
“I’m delighted to get the win; it’s another one to tick off.
“I’m coming in to my third season as what you would call a junior driver back home, and I also represented Ireland in the European Championship in Spain.”
Sailesh Abernethy stayed home due to work commitments but gave Cowden some key advice on how to drive the horse he trains and owns.
“Saily said drive him cold. Keep him at the back because he has one short sprint in him.
“When they were flying along in front I thought it might work out ok.
“Luckily I did get a nice trip in to it down the back and his speed came through round the bend.
“He ran away from them.”
Cowden plans on being here for another four weeks before returning home for the new Irish racing season, which starts at the end of March.
But he thinks he’ll come back again next year.
“I rung home the other day and it was 1 degree and snowing.
“Every day here it’s twenty, thirty degrees and the sun is always shining.
“Sean said to me the first time no one there will know you, so spend it to get acclimatised and learn the rules.
“And if I enjoy it, come back next year and it’ll be easier and he was right.
“It’s all down to Jay and I can’t thank him enough.
“He and Saily have been more than willing to help me understand what way I should be driving in every race and they’ve taken me to quite a few places I wouldn’t have gone to otherwise.
“Palmerston North, Rotorua, Otaki, they’ve taken me everywhere!
“I can’t complain at all and I’m delighted that I decided to come out here.”