Aspiring young Welsh jockey Lowan Cruise Mills has had a taste of Aintree and is desperate for more.
The 13-year-old is already looking forward to next season after finishing the climax of the Dragon Studios Racecourse Series in second place overall.
Pony racing and then point-to-point has long been a traditional route towards being a top level jockey, while Lowan is also an accomplished show jumper.
The teenager from Bargoed finished the series ranked number two with the England-and-Wales-wide Pony Racing Authority in the 138cm class, behind rival Finn Murphy.
In early October, he won the penultimate round of the Dragon Studios Racecourse Series at Ffos Las on his pony, Avalon Dancer, a victory that set him up nicely for the final of the 20-race series at Aintree on October 29, where he came third.
“I started riding when I was about five, got better at it, then started winning some pony races and just really enjoyed it,” he says.
“You have to click with a pony by learning their movements and their character and that’s part of the fun.
“When you win a race, it’s a good feeling but the race days are great anyway because all the jockey coaches and everyone else are really welcoming.”
Among the lessons to be learned is not to slow up when leading a race without checking your rivals are not in striking distance.
Lowan did that earlier in the year and got pipped at the winning post. But like all natural talents, he learned quickly and stored the knowledge. The next time they met, he came from behind himself to turn the tables.
“When you win a race like that, the feeling is amazing,” he says. “It’s hard to describe.”
As a young rider learning his craft, Lowan could not be in better hands. His ponies are stabled with leading Welsh trainer Tim Vaughan at his state-of-the-art operation near Cowbridge, where Vaughan’s 16-year-old son Edward plays the role of mentor, coach, and big brother figure.
Edward himself is a former double Pony Racing Authority champion, who also became Irish champion, and is now racing in adult company as an amateur.
Vaughan senior says: “Lowan is a very promising young kid and his racing record is really impressive.
“Like all youngsters, the challenge for him is to keep developing because it’s a very competitive world, but he’s made a fantastic start.
“What Ed has been able to do is offer a guiding hand, because he’s been this way himself. Ed has proven himself in pony racing and it’s been great to see that experience handed down, helping Lowan to have lots of winners.”
Lowan’s showjumping prowess means he has earned success at various domestic championships and could mean he competes overseas next year as he rises through the ranks.
He is currently part of the Welsh Home Pony team and has trained and competed at the David Broome Event Centre near Chepstow.
His father, chauffeur, minder, and budding unpaid stable hand Gethyn says Lowan loves all equestrian sports, but recognises there will be a point where he has to make a choice if he wants to compete at the top level.
“If you press him, he says he likes both racing and showjumping, equally – it’s 50-50,” says Gethyn.
“From a showjumping point of view, if he’s good enough he could go and compete abroad.
“He’s always taken to riding. It was always that rather than football or rugby.
“But he doesn’t need to make any firm choices yet. He’s still got three years left as a pony racer, so for now he can just enjoy the ride.”