HARD WORK PAYING OFF FOR EBOR WINNER RODRIGUEZ
Prolific young jockey Callum Rodriguez is still a relatively new name on the racecard but is making a big impact on the All-Weather this winter after riding out his claim back in August.
The 21-year-old from Morecambe is one of the leading riders at Newcastle, with a level stakes profit of over £100, and posted a strike rate of around 45% on the All-Weather in the opening two weeks of the year.
Simon Mapletoft caught up with the northern-based rider to find out more.
Callum, you must be pinching yourself with excitement after such a great run of form?
“I’m living the dream. Ever since I rode out my claim the winners have just kept on coming. My agent Richard Hale does a great job getting me rides for different trainers and when you’re riding winners regularly you’re high on confidence.
“My boss Michael Dods doesn’t run that many on the All-Weather but puts me up as much as he can and Keith Dalgleish has been a massive support. He has a big team for the winter and is supplying me with a lot of winners.”
You’ve got a knack for winning on unfancied horses which has been attracting new admirers.
“I treat every horse the same. I don’t even look at the prices. I watch videos of every horse I ride and take positives out of everything I see. All horses are different and there’s a key to every one. Finding it gives me a real buzz.
“Sometimes you need to ride a horse two or three times to figure them out. I love the feeling that winning on an outsider gives me. It’s great to see the look or surprise on the owners’ faces. Riding favourites is more of a pressure and it’s a relief to win on them.”
So when did you decide you wanted to be a jockey?
“When I was about 13 or 14. I used to jump on horses on my Auntie Maggie’s farm in Lancashire. I couldn’t ride but I was fearless. I’d get on them in the field and just hang on. I was obsessed with them and just fell in love. There was no going back.
“Richard Ford trained only a couple of miles away at Garstang so I knocked on his door one day. I told him I wanted to be a jockey and asked him for a job. He looked at me and laughed and asked me if I knew how to muck out. I said I did so he told me to go and get a wheelbarrow, and that’s how it all started.
“I used to turn up at Richard’s at weekends and in the school holidays, just mucking out and grooming to start with. I used to jump on the tractor with him and watch his horses on the gallop. I was fascinated.”
How important was Richard’s influence back then?
“He taught me so much and got me enrolled at the Northern Racing College at Doncaster and made me his apprentice. I learned so much from him, just being around the yard and talking to him on the horse box on the way to the races.
“In the two years I spent there I didn’t have any outside rides. I was itching to get going but he told me I was making too many mistakes and was better off making them on his horses than anyone else’s. He was right. My agent Richard Hale also managed me very well and, thinking back, they were so right to take things steady with me.
“Richard’s a very intelligent man - very technical in his approach - and a good trainer. He didn’t have many horses but used to win with the ones he had no right to. He was a very good teacher and still keeps an eye on my rides. I ring him on the way to the races and he always gives me sound advice. What we have is a very strong friendship.”
You rode winners for Richard but a bigger opportunity beckoned.
“I’d just ridden a winner at Newcastle for Iain Jardine in January 2017 when Dale Gibson told me that Michael Dods was looking for a new 7lb claimer. Dale is in constant contact with the jockeys through his work for the PJA but is a good friend of Michael’s.
“I was invited to ride out a couple of times a week to get a feel for the place and started with the boss on 1st March. It was a big move for me, riding better horses every morning and working alongside top jockeys like Paul Mulrennan, Connor Beasley and Andrew Mullen.
“Michael had taken Connor through his claim so had a track record with apprentices. Everyone was so helpful and the advice I got was priceless, really. I couldn’t have been happier and was so keen to do Richard proud.”
Just over five months later you were plunged into the big time when you won the Ebor on Nakeeta.
“It was an unbelievable landmark for me. I’d been doing well to get my claim down to 5lb but all of a sudden I wasn’t just Callum Rodriguez. I was an Ebor-winning jockey. But it wasn’t something that happened overnight. That day was a long time in the planning.
“Iain Jardine contacted the boss three months before the race to ask if I could ride the horse at York. I’d only been there about two months at the time so it was very exciting. I’d ridden Nakeeta a good few months before the race and took him for a racecourse gallop at Newcastle 10 days before the big race. I’d never had a feel like that. It was like sitting on a jumbo jet.
Were you confident going into the race?
“You know, I really was. When I think back the whole thing was quite surreal. I phoned my mum to tell her I’d win the Ebor and I really meant it. She thought I was joking but I was serious. He was a very good horse and everything felt right. The preparation had been perfect and all I needed was a bit of luck on the day.
“I’d got a feel for him in his work and had watched all his videos. Paul Mulrennan had finished second on him in a Listed race at York and gave me some more good advice. The minute the gates opened I had a big smile on my face. We had a perfect trip and in the end I was just waiting for the line to come.
“It was such a proud day. I was so happy for Iain who believed in the horse and in me, and for all my family. Richard was watching up at Cartmel and by all accounts was going mental watching the race. He was the first person I spoke to when I left the Knavesmire.”
So was the Ebor the springboard for riding out your claim?
“Definitely. I ended that year with 39 winners but still had 43 to go by the time we got the 1st January last year. Things continued to go well, and I eventually rode out my claim in August. I was prepared for life to get a lot tougher at that point, but the winners just kept on coming.
“I rode my first ever Listed winner just a week later - Intense Romance for Michael at Ayr. She was a good filly to me. I won five races on her and it meant a lot to Michael to get such a big winner at the Western Meeting.
“I also started getting rides from southern trainers last year. Stuart Williams put me on Swift Approval in the apprentice race at Lingfield Park on Good Friday and he ran well. It was brilliant to be involved in a big day like that.”
Why are you so successful at Newcastle?
“For a start I get plenty of good rides there but I love the track. It’s very fair. You can win from anywhere and the best horse usually wins. The surface is also top class.
“I actually enjoy riding all the All-Weather tracks. They’re all quite different. Wolverhampton has been quite good to me too and it was nice to ride a winner there for Newmarket trainer James Tate the other day.”
Race replay: Rodriguez scored at Newcastle aboard Pea Shooter last week.
The hard work is certainly paying off.
“I’ve been very lucky so far but I won’t be taking my foot off the gas, that’s for certain. I went to Spain to see my grandad in November. My dad is Spanish, from the north of the country, and that side of the family are mad for their racing. Grandad watches me all the time.
“When I’m not riding I’m always watching races and studying. I love the sectional timings and all the other race data on the At The Races website. It tells me so much about the horses I ride and the races I take part in.
“I also run a lot to keep fit and keep my weight in check. I manage my weight well, mainly with the help of my nutritionist Dan at Jack Berry House, but I won’t be riding lighter than 9st until the summer. Then I’ll get down to around 8st 11lb.”
As a fully-fledged jockey, what are your ambitions now?
“When we got to 1st January it was like starting from scratch with nothing on the board, so to ride five winners in the first 10 days was great.
“My target is to ride more winners than I did last year. I managed to get to 68 so if I can beat that I’ll have done okay. I also want to get on better horses in better company. I’ve still got such a lot to do. I still haven’t even been to some of the big tracks in the south.”
Is there a particular race you dream of winning?
“It’s got to be the Derby. Not just because it’s the greatest race in the world but I love riding middle distance horses. I feel very comfortable on them. It’s how a race builds and the way you can go through the gears on a good stayer.
“I know I’ve got a lot to learn for now. I need to keep on gaining experience, asking lots of questions and taking advice from all the good people I have around me. The next race can’t come fast enough for me. Racing really is my obsession.”