Robert Cowell, 49, started training from his current base, at the privately owned Bottisham Heath Stud at Six Mile Bottom, Newmarket, Suffolk in 1997. However, he had previously served a lengthy apprenticeship with Gavin Pritchard-Gordon, David Nicholson, Jack Berry, John Hammond in France and Neil Drysdale in America. He was also a competent amateur jockey, riding 10 winners on both sides of the English Channel.
Cowell first took out a public training licence at Hollywood Park, California in 1996, but later explained, “I was training for a few people with only a handful of horses, the majority of which were claiming class and of average ability.” After returning to Britain the following year, he saddled his first winner, Mary Cornwallis, in a 5-furlong handicap at Lingfield in January, 1998.
Cowell didn’t saddle his first Listed winner, Biniou in the Prix Contessina at Fontainebleuau, until 2007 but, by then, had already developed a reputation for rekindling the enthusiasm of out-of-form horses, especially sprinters. In fact, he later reflected on the early days of his career, saying, “When we first began training the sprinter type was more affordable. Trying to buy a horse with useful sprinting form that may have lost its way was what we were looking at.”
Cowell had to wait until 2011, 14 full seasons after he moved to Newmarket, for his first winner at the highest level, Prohibit in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2011, but the victory was particularly satisfying. Acquired as a “castoff” from John Gosden in January, 2010, Prohibit graduated from the handicap ranks to become a bona fide Group 1 contender. Cowell later said of him, “I owe Prohibit a lot because he put me on the map, gave my family and the owners our biggest day at that stage at Royal Ascot. Once you have won at that level you crave it again.”
Win at that level Cowell certainly did, saddling Jwala to win the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes at York in 2013 and Goldream to win the King’s Stand Stakes and the Qatar Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp in 2015. Other high-profile winners for the yard in recent years have included Kingsgate Native in the Betfred Temple Stakes at Haydock in 2013, Intrinsic in the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood in 2014 and Outback Traveller in the Wokingham Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2016.