Turning down the chance to carve out a potential career as a professional footballer must be a tough decision to make. But it is one that apprentice jockey Gavin Ashton has no regrets in making.
There comes a point for most that the dream to become the next Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo ends in bitter disappointment, although for a few, Ashton included, it can be the opening of a new venture as opposed to a door being slammed shut.
While for many the route into racing comes through family links or a keen interest around horses, that is far from the case for Ashton, 22, with his path into the sport starting from a conversation held at a pub close to his former home in Oldham.
He said: “After I failed my A-Levels, I knew someone who worked at Hopwood Hall College and that is when I was told they were doing a course with Manchester City.
“You went to their ground to play football and they had learning facilities there as well for the education side.
“While I was doing this course I was working at the Elephant and Castle in Bamford and I loved watching the racing there on television.
“I was pouring myself a drink at the bar one time and this lady said to me that I was the right size for a jockey.
“I had no idea how to get into it, but a friend of the landlord knew someone who had gone to the British Racing School.
“After talking to them I made the rash decision that I wanted to be a jockey and my mum and dad laughed at me as they know what to expect. It was about this time I was talking about doing a scholarship in football over in America.
“I went to the British Racing School for a pre-assessment and I smashed the fitness side, but when it came to a one-on-one with the director I was pretty much shot down.
“I sent an email saying how disappointed I was, but I got a reply as the staff were impressed with my fitness and attitude and I got offered a place on the 14-week course.”
Though hailing from a non-racing background it was not long before the avid Manchester United fan, having successfully completed his time at the British Racing School, joined forces with one of Newmarket’s most revered trainers, Sir Mark Prescott.
He said: “I went to the British Racing School and I had never sat on a horse before. The first day I got on one I thought ‘what am I doing?’ and what is going on.
“The teachers were amazing and I was willing to learn and everything they told me I took as gospel. I had no bad habits, as I had never ridden before.
“I got on well with Ian Howell who did a lot of fitness there and he said he’d heard there was an opportunity to work at Sir Mark Prescott’s.
“After offering me a month’s trial, the boss wanted to meet my mum and dad and he told them I wouldn’t be a jockey.
“I had just done 14 weeks at the racing school and I was then told my dream would not come true. It left me devastated, but by the time my mum and dad came back after my month’s trial the boss had changed his mind and said I was working hard and progressing nicely.”
As far as 21st birthday presents go, Ashton, who also works as a chef at The Kentford near Newmarket, was given the perfect one when receiving the news every aspiring jockey wants to hear last August, just over a year after teaming up with the Heath House Stables maestro.
He said: “On my 21st birthday last year, William Butler (assistant trainer) said the boss was going to put me forward for my apprentice licence.
“I was shocked, as I had only been in the game a year and a few months, but I was I was itching to get going and my dream of being a jockey was coming true.
“Two weeks after finishing my course the boss had one in an apprentice race at Lingfield and I thought there is no chance he will put me on it, but he did and we finished second.
“It was not until March 23 that I got my second ride on Harmonica in the Elite Racing Club’s colours and I couldn’t believe I was wearing their silks. It was amazing to get a winner in those colours and to get off to a flying start. It felt surreal.
“From my first five rides I had three winners. After I rode Harmonica to victory I said the target was to have three winners for the boss and two outside winners. I’ve had two of each so I just need one more for the boss.”
With an appetite to learn, Ashton is already looking ahead to next year where he hopes with hard work he can begin to put his name about and start to fulfil his chosen career.
He said: “The boss has been great in keeping me grounded, but he has given me so much advice, while William looks after me and my jockey coach Michael Tebbutt has been amazing in going out of his way to help me.
“This year is all about learning and winners are a bonus. A lot of people have said about going away for the winter, but I want to stay here and work hard on my fitness and technique so I can hit the ground running next year.”