You have ridden more winners in your spell in America at Fair Grounds in New Orleans – and your mounts have earned significantly more cash – than in any single season in Britain. Could you have dreamed that things would go so well?
Definitely not! I came over on a whim as an apprentice in 2009 to work for Mike Stidham and ever since then I’ve had this desire to ride in America. It’s always been a huge goal for me. Joe Sharp was Stidham’s assistant trainer who took me under his wing and I learnt a lot.
I came back to England and rode out my claim, but all the time wanting to return to the States. I needed to go through the process of acquiring the right US visa in 2014 so I could work horses for Joe in his first season as a trainer.
Coming back to the US this time I am very lucky to have things going so well. Ironically, I think I might have appeared in the British press more since I’ve been away. What do they say about absence making the heart grow fonder?
In my heart I’d be back in England tomorrow, but my mind is telling me that professionally this is the best place to be
Why is racing at Fair Grounds a better option than riding on the all-weather in an English winter? The ease of travelling and prize-money must be important factors…
Prize-money is obviously a huge factor. It’s a different challenge because back home you only just survive on the all-weather, especially in my case as not many of my trainers have a lot of runners. It made sense to do something more productive, with my five-year work visa in place.
Riding round the same track every day is a far cry from travelling long distances to most meetings in England, which can take its toll.
In my heart I’d be back in England tomorrow, but my mind is telling me that professionally this is the best place to be.
Former leading jockey Rosie Napravnik is married to Joe Sharp and now acts as his assistant. How important is she to the success of the operation?
Rosie is hugely important. She’ll get on eight to nine sets a morning and rides most of the work. Not every barn or stable has a multiple Group 1-winning jockey working on a regular basis. Rosie is very much involved and gets down to all the nitty gritty.
She obviously knows every horse in the yard and is a great help in placing each individual. She has ridden for just about every trainer, not only at Fair Grounds, but all around America.
When I started riding for Steve Asmussen, for whom she’d been very successful, Rosie would tell me how he liked things done and the running traits of his horses.
She gave me the heads up when I was entering the unknown.
How long will you stay in America?
When I arrived here I said I’d give it until February to see how everything was going. Things were still going smoothly and I got on Snapper Sinclair for Steve Asmussen and we were beaten a nostril in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes – Snapper Sinclair is now a potential Kentucky Derby contender.
If I left I’d be passing up a possible ride in one of America’s premier races, even though I can’t be 100% sure I’ll be on him. I have now moved on to Keeneland and then possibly Churchill Downs after that.
That’s all part of the carousel, and after that I’ll evaluate my situation.
You are from Newmarket, so were you always destined to work in racing or was there another career plan?
I was fortunate that my aunt Julia Feilden trains in Newmarket. I was born and raised straight into racing, through pony racing, my apprenticeship, and all the time Julia supported me.
My mum works for Julia and my dad has worked for Ed Dunlop for 30 years. So we have always been involved.
I knew where I was heading from a very early age and used to ride out one lot before going to school each day.
Were you disappointed that you didn’t get more rides after completing that celebrated Cambridgeshire-Cesarewitch Autumn Double in 2015?
It didn’t go entirely unnoticed but had those two races been in the spring it might have had a different effect. It would have been fresh in people’s minds and provided a launchpad for the season.
But I am not saying I was frustrated by the lack of reaction; I am very pleased it happened. It was a great fortnight for me and I’ll never forget it. But am I disappointed? Absolutely not.
Leading handlers such as Mark Casse and Michael Maker have given you chances. What is it about your style of riding that suits those left-handed tracks?
This isn’t my first rodeo over here; I came over when I was 18 so I was already familiar with riding the circuit, without actually race-riding. You do have to bed in and adapt.
At home a race develops at a slower pace and you can take your time a bit more; it’s all about getting your horse relaxed and into a nice rhythm.
You soon realise in America it’s very much speed-biased and you’ve got to be in the right spot within the first eight.
The dirt here has a very solid base to it and rides very tight and fast, and horses that do excel on it are built differently; more robust, muscular in the shoulder and they have a low daisy-cutting action.
In your experience what is the biggest difference between American and British racing? And what one thing would you take from each to improve the other?
They are so different in their own ways. England has its purse problems. Bring the American prize-money to England.
Maybe take some of the variety of the British racecourses to America, so many have their own unique character and style, which would be something of a novelty and might go down well over here.
Who has been the biggest influence on your career – and who do you turn to for advice?
My mother and my aunt, Julia Feilden. Mum has always pushed me for whatever I’ve wanted to do. If I ever changed my mind she would be there to help me out.
Ever since I was pony racing and started race-riding she always encouraged me in the right direction.
Mum and Julia are sisters and are equally responsible for where I am now. They provided the foundations and told me if I was doing it the right way.
Julia gave me my first ride and my first winner and she continued to support me after I’d ridden out my claim.
I’d like to be leading jockey at one of the tracks in America. Ultimately winning a Grade 1 over here, while being internationally recognised as a jockey, has to be my overall ambition
Is there the same camaraderie among jockeys in the US weighing room as there is in the UK?
Yes, there’s the same camaraderie. The funniest thing I’ve seen was Florent Geroux, Gun Runner’s jockey, getting beat by a woman rider in a tight finish and all the lads made out he’d been outridden.
When he returned to the jockeys’ room the lads had hung up his boots! They were all screaming, ‘That’s the end! You’re finished!’ It was hilarious.
We’re all riding together at Fair Grounds for five months and so you become like a team. I live with a guy called Dave Carroll, who trained here and for the past three years has been assistant to Mark Casse, who brought Tepin over to win at Royal Ascot.
If I want to know anything about anything here, Dave’s the man to ask.
In what way has the American experience improved you as a jockey, and as a person?
When you come over here you have to interact with trainers a lot more than at home. We are here for five months alongside the trainer in the same barn and riding for him every morning.
Whereas in England, there are times when the trainer might not come racing and the only contact could be by phone. It’s more face-to-face here.
As a young man you have to mature pretty quickly and probably become a better operator as a result.
What would you like to achieve in the next five years?
I’d like to be leading jockey at one of the tracks in America. It’s a bit of a circus over here moving from Fair Grounds to Keeneland then Churchill Downs and during the summer there is Indiana, Ellis Park and tracks around the Kentucky area.
If I am doing well at one track it’s worth persevering, trying to make a name for myself and hopefully becoming more and more in demand.
That would be the goal by the end of my five-year visa and so far things are happening for me sooner rather than later; it’s all go, go, go at the moment.
I never think it’s a good idea to set the bar too high, but ultimately winning a Grade 1 over here – while being internationally recognised as a jockey – has to be my overall ambition.