When Callum Shepherd made the decision to relocate to Newmarket over the winter, he hoped it would be a move to take his career to the next level.
The 22-year-old has not looked back since trading life in Lambourn for Flat racing’s Headquarters, with his results on the track this season suggesting he is heading in the right direction.
There is no better advert for a jockey than riding winners – and Shepherd has wasted no time in making the most of every opportunity that has come his way from his new base, having partnered 20 winners since the resumption of racing on June 1.
Shepherd said: “The later stages of last year, I was coming to Newmarket riding out twice a week for the likes of Michael Bell and Saeed bin Suroor, then more into the winter David Simcock. Moving to Newmarket was on my mind and something I was seriously considering.
“I moved at Christmas time and I really like life in Newmarket, both from a professional perspective and also from a social one. Things are going very well and it’s a move I’m very pleased I made, as I was probably treading water a bit in Lambourn.
“If I can make an impact here and ride winners for trainers in the town, others will soon take note. If you follow that up by making yourself available to ride work, it can help build up more associations and lead to further opportunities which could take you places.”
While Shepherd – who served his apprenticeship with Charlie Hills – had been considering a Newmarket move, the offer to become the retained rider for leading owners Bill and Tim Gredley helped make up his mind.
He explained: “It was around November time the Gredley family asked me to become their retained rider.
“One of the stipulations, with most of their horses being trained in Newmarket, was having to move there, which suited me down to the ground.
“It is a big job and one that has come quite early in my career and I’m very grateful to be in the position. It is a positive that someone has taken note of what I’m doing.
“They are famous silks to be associated with and they have had enormous success down the years. It is a statement of intent on their behalf.”
Shepherd has proven a model of consistency over the past two seasons in recording back-to-back half-centuries – and though his tally of 52 winners last year was five short of his personal best, it ranks as an equally impressive figure given the difficulties he faced.
He said: “I never made the impact I would have liked as an apprentice, but in my first full year as a professional I rode 57 winners – I really stepped up on what I had done and proved myself without a claim.
“Last year was very difficult for me as things changed with Charlie Hills. What went through my mind was terrifying, as I was left wondering how long would it take me to get back on that calibre of horse. I had hoped working with him would take me to the next level.
“I started riding out for Mick Channon and he helped me through the period, providing me with regular rides and winners, before I started working with the likes of Michael Bell and Saeed bin Suroor. They were all a massive part in helping me turn things around quickly.”
Though Shepherd has put himself in a good position to achieve a new personal best, there is another milestone he has prioritised this year.
He said: “I think everyone’s winners will be slightly diminished this year with Covid-19 and the lockdown. I’ve been lucky to get plenty of winners in and it would be a nice achievement to get a personal best total given what has happened.
“I want to be riding 100 winners a year on a regular basis and if I can make inroads into that, it would be great. Top of my to do list, though, is to ride a Group winner. I’m certainly in the right place to pick up a ride to be able to do that and I want to strike at that level.”
It may be early days between Shepherd and the Gredley family – for whom he is a rare appointment as a retained rider – but he has already identified two horses he believes could carry the yellow and black silks to plenty of success.
He said: “In terms of the two-year-olds, She Do, who is trained by Roger Varian, is a nice filly with some strengthening up to do, but she is already a winner and will improve with racing.
“She stepped forward from her first to second run and if she does that from two to three, she could be anything and who knows where she will end up.
“Luncies won first time out, then finished behind French Derby winner Mishriff in the Listed race he won at Newmarket. He has had time since that run and a mark of 83 should be workable as he has the potential to be useful and I think the best is yet to come.”
Shepherd has also adopted a new look for his new home and though his bleached locks make him look more like a boy band member than a jockey, it has not done any damage to his riding skills.
He smiled: “I spent quite a lot of time with Eoin Walsh and Kieran O’Neill in lockdown, and Eoin put something out on social media about one of us shaving our heads. I got the most votes, but I said ‘I’m not shaving my head’ so I had to dye it blonde!
“I didn’t see the consequences and it has lasted longer than I hoped, but it hasn’t stopped me riding winners!”