WHEN Callum Rodriguez was a teenager, he had to choose between becoming a boxer or a jockey. He opted for a career in the saddle, but his boxing days have not gone to waste. As one of the leading apprentices in the country, the County Durham-based 20-year-old has spent the whole of the summer Flat season punching above his weight.

“It’s gone fantastic for me,” said Rodriguez, who moved to Michael Dods’ Denton Hall yard in March after starting his riding career with Lancaster-based Richard Ford. “I fought at national schoolboy level as a boxer, but I started doing bits at Richard’s yard from the age of 14 and there came a point where I had to choose between the two.

“The racing was starting to take off, so in the end it was an easy decision. I went to the Northern Racing College at Doncaster and got my licence in March 2015. I rode for Richard for two years and really enjoyed it, but it got to a stage where I had to move somewhere bigger, where I could get more opportunities.

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“I remember speaking to Connor (Beasley) one day, and he said, ‘Michael Dods is looking for someone – you’d fit in great up there’. I talked it over with my old boss, and we agreed it would be a great opportunity. I started with Michael on March 1, and my first ride was Kiwi Bay up at Newcastle. It won, and we haven’t really looked back from there.”

The victory on Kiwi Bay was the first of Rodriguez’s 32 winners this season - the most recent came aboard Vindicator at Catterick on Tuesday - a tally that sees him standing sixth in the Conditional Jockeys’ Championship and means he has almost ridden out his five-pound claim.

His career is progressing apace, but whatever he goes on to achieve in the future, he is unlikely to have many more memorable days than the one he experienced at York at the end of last month.

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

It was by far and away the biggest success of his career, and saw him showcase all of his qualities as he squeezed Nakeeta into contention a furlong out, before coaxing the perennial bridesmaid into a thrilling victory over favourite Flymetothestars by a head.

It was the culmination of a summer-long plan that had seen Rodriguez travel to Jardine’s Dumfriesshire base to school Nakeeta, specifically with a tilt at the Ebor in mind.

“Mr Jardine’s been very good to me, giving me some nice rides, and right back at the start of the summer, he said, ‘I’ve got a horse for you for the Ebor’,” said Rodriguez. “He’d finished second at York in May, and he’d also been second in a Chester Cup, so the plan was always to target the race.

“Michael let me go up to Scotland a couple of times to get to know the horse, and I managed to get in a racecourse gallop at Newcastle about ten days before the race.

“I had a few sit-downs with my jockey coach, Phil Kinsella, and we came up with a plan of how we wanted things to go. Thankfully, it was one of those races where everything just fell into place perfectly. We got a lovely toe into the race, the gaps came at the right time, and I felt like we would win a fair way out. As a jockey, it’s not often that things go just as you’d planned them. But it’s nice when they do!”

The victory sparked some euphoric scenes in the winners’ enclosure, but two races later, Rodriguez was back in the saddle creating another piece of history.

Riding Holmeswood, Rodriguez dead-heated with the Ben Robinson-ridden Intense Romance in the final race of the afternoon. Dead heats are fairly unusual in racing, but they are hardly unheard of. What made this different, however, was that both horses were in the care of the same trainer, the ‘guv’nor’ Michael Dods.

“I’ve been told that the last time there was a dead-heat between two horses from the same trainer was 1949, but that was in Europe,” said Rodriguez. “Nobody has been able to find another example of it happening in Britain.

“It’s amazing really – you couldn’t make it up. I’d ridden Intense Romance when he won at Ascot earlier in the season, but I couldn’t do the weight so that was why I was on Holmeswood.

“We thought both horses had a decent chance, but it was one of those races where the field split into two so it was hard to keep on top of where everyone was.

“I ended up at the front about a furlong-and-a-half out, and to be honest, I thought I’d probably got there a bit too soon. He was sticking at it though, but then all of a sudden I could see this horse with a big white noseband coming for me. When we crossed the line, Ben said, ‘I think you’ve got it’. I knew it was close, but never for a minute did I think it would be a dead-heat.”

Unsurprisingly, after such a successful afternoon, Rodriguez is now a man in demand. He will spend a month of the winter riding in the United States, after Dods helped fix up a placement at a US yard.

Next season, he will be down to a three-pound claim, and while that could limit his opportunities in some races, it will open doors in others.

“I’ve improved so much this year,” he said. “Technically, I’m so much better, and I’ve learned so much about racing in different situations and on different tracks. The more experience you get, the more you’re used to things that might happen in a race. I know there’s still so much more to learn, but hopefully I’m heading in the right direction.

“The win in the Ebor has been massive for me because it shows I can handle such a big occasion. It’s really helped with my confidence because there was a fair bit of pressure riding the horse but I didn’t let it affect me.

“Once you’ve had a taste of winning a race like that, you don’t want it to end. I know I have to keep working hard, but I also know I want to have more days like that in the future.”