The Big Interview: Jockey Callum Rodriguez

Jockey Callum Rodriguez celebrates after Nakeeta wins the Betfred Ebor
Jockey Callum Rodriguez celebrates after Nakeeta wins the Betfred Ebor

Craig Salmon talks to rising Morecambe jockey Callum Rodriguez, who is making a name for himself in the sport

I’m at Carlisle tonight; I’ve got three rides there. Then I’m at Newcastle tomorrow day time – I’ve got six rides there. Then Saturday I’m at thirsk – I think I am down for five rides.”

Rising Morecambe horse racing star Callum Rodriguez was busy explaining his hectic schedule over the course of the forthcoming days when I caught up with on Thursday morning.

Not too many days go by when the 21-year-old is not in the saddle racing around some of the most famous courses across the UK.

“It’s non-stop; it’s all-go,” added the likeable lad, who is a former pupil of Our Lady’s Catholic College, in Lancaster.

The reason why Rodriguez is so busy is because he’s quickly making a name for himself in the sport as a jockey with a huge future ahead of him.

Plenty of trainers are keen to give him opportunities and he is certainly not disappointing those that are placing their faith in him.

He’s already enjoyed 40 winners this year, which followed the 30-odd victories he achieved last season. Tomorrow he returns to York – the scene of the biggest win of his career to date.

Riding the Iain Jardine-trained Nakeeta last summer, Rodriguez landed the Betfred Ebor, the richest flat handicap run anywhere in Europe.

Coaxing the horse into contention a furlong out, Nakeeta pipped Flymetothestars at the post by a head.

Rodriguez admits he has to pinch himself at times when he thinks how far he has come in such a short space of time.

“I rode 39 winners last year and obviously won the Ebor at York which is the richest handicap in Europe,” Rodriguez said.

“It was a big race – a big profile winner.

“To win such a big race was a surreal feeling.

“At the time, it never really sunk in.I never really had time to let it sink in and it’s still the same now. It’s a tough job. We are racing every day and you never really get time to sit down and reflect.

“You’re always moving on to the next race.

“But obviously when I do get a little time to think about things; it is such a historic race.

“After winning that I became a lot more noticed and got a lot more rides off the bigger trainers.

“It’s such a big recognition. It is definitely the biggest highlight of my career so far.”

Although this year perhaps has not quite contained the high of his victory at Ebor, it has still been a hugely successful one.

In fact, Rodriguez believes it has been even better. His 40 wins can be added to as there is still a couple of month left of the season.

“I have had a fabulous year once again,” said Rodriguez.

“I have had a load of rides with some big trainers from down south; and in the north, I am riding for all the right people.

“I’ve had 40 winners so far – a couple of decent ones at York and I also won a historic race in Hamilton last Friday – the Lanark Silver Bell.

“It is the oldest race in Scotland – a big handicapper.”

While Rodriguez is firmly on the road to stardom as a jockey, he could have followed a similar path in a totally different sport.

As a junior, he was a highly rated boxer who trained at Skerton ABC, in Lancaster.

It was not until he had reached the age of 16 that he decided to focus totally on horse racing – persuaded to do so after being given a great opportunity by Garstang trainer Richard Ford.

“I was torn between the two,” Rodriguez admitted.

“I did not know whether to go down the horse racing route or the boxing route.

“What decided it for me was I was probably a bit more into the horses and enjoying it so I just decided to go for it.

“I got a good opportunity with Richard Ford and my mind was made up.

“As far as the boxing was concerned, I got to the finals of the junior ABAs three or four years in a row.

“I loved it.”

While Rodriguez decided to turn his back on boxing, he admits his background in the sport has helped his racing career.

“It has definitely helped me,” he said. “Doing boxing from a young age is great for discipline.

“It’s all about fitness and looking after your body.

“It just grounds you to be tough and hard-wearing, which helps in this job because it’s long hours and it’s a constant battle with the scales.

“I think the boxing has stood me in good stead.”

Still an apprentice, Rodriguez is very close to becoming a fully-fledged jockey – although he is remaining guarded as to what he can achieve in the future.

“Once I get to 95 winners, I will be a fully-fledged professional jockey,” he said. “Once I achieve that, it’s a stepping stone to competing at some of the more high-profile races.

“It’s a case of not looking too far ahead and taking every race as it comes.

“Just try to keep moving forward and as long as I’m riding winners and keeping the confidence up, then that’s all you can do.

“This is just a great lifestyle for me – it’s a hobby.

“If I wasn’t doing this for a living, I would be still riding horses.”