THIS time last year, Callum Rodriguez was preparing for a trip to Miami.

A welcome break at the end of a gruelling flat season? Some winter warmth in the Sunshine State? Not quite. Spurning the chance of a holiday, the County Durham-based jockey flew to Florida for an intensive training camp at the stables of US handler Michael Matz, a former winner of both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. It was to be a decision that helped transform his career.

Almost one year on from his Stateside sojourn, and Rodriguez is now a seasoned racing professional. His win on board Mustaqbal at Carlisle last week was his 95th under rules, meaning he has ridden out his claim and is no longer regarded as an apprentice.

Most of those victories have come on horses saddled by Michael Dods, and his relationship with the Denton-based trainer has played a huge role in his sustained run of success over the last 12 months.

Dods has a proven track record of nurturing talented apprentices, and his faith in Rodriguez has enabled the 21-year-old to flourish. Sometimes, though, a change of outlook also helps, and a crash-course in American racing appears to have accelerated Rodriguez’s development.

“It was an amazing experience,” said the youngster, who left his former role at the stables of Lancaster-based Richard Ford to join Dods’ Denton Hall operation last March. “They do things so differently over there, and it’s great to be able to experience that and learn from it.

“They do most of their work on the track, so you’re riding and learning all the time. A lot of their training is done with the clock, so it’s a great way to learn about timing a race and getting your sectionals right.

“I’d be riding out with earphones and a radio in, and the trainer would be talking to me saying, ‘Right, I want the next furlong to be done at such-and-such a pace, then step it up for the furlong after that’. It’s different to riding out over here, and I was able to take a lot from it.

“I remember when I came back, my first ride was at Wolverhampton and as soon as I sat on the horse, I thought, ‘I feel totally different here, I feel like a different jockey’. I was just so confident. Thankfully, the horse won.”

The winners have not dried up since. At the start of the season, Rodriguez needed 43 more victories to ride out his claim. It looked a tough task, but Dods’ horses have been flying all summer and the tally quickly began to reduce.

An injury to Dods’ senior stable jockey, Paul Mulrennan, increased the pressure on Rodriguez’s shoulders, but also opened the door to more opportunities, particularly in high-profile handicaps.

By the time he entered September, Rodriguez just needed five more winners to leave the apprentice ranks. As was the case with Mark Johnston’s pursuit of the all-time record number of training wins, the victories dried up with the finishing post in sight, but by the time Mustaqbal triumphed last Wednesday, Rodriguez had successfully confirmed his standing as one of the most exciting young jockeys in the country.

“When someone pointed out I needed 43 winners at the start of the season, I thought, ‘God, that’s a mountain to climb’,” he said. “But then I had a few wins and things started to snowball from there.

“Paul’s injury gave me a few more chances, and Michael’s horses have been running fantastically in the last couple of months. There was a spell when he probably wasn’t running as many as he would have liked because of the fast ground, but as soon as you started to see a little bit of ease and we could get the horses out, they’ve been flying in all over the place.

“It’s been brilliant and I remember looking at the numbers and thinking, ‘Bloody hell, I only need five more winners’. The way things were going, I thought I’d do that in a week, but then sure enough, a week went by and I couldn’t get a winner for love nor money. Thankfully, that didn’t last long though, and it was obviously a massive moment when Mustaqbal won.”

The best of his career? “Nah, that would have to be the Ebor (when Rodriguez partnered Nakeeta to victory on the Knavesmire in 2017). To win that as a five-pound claimer was incredible. It was probably the day that got my name known.”

And this season? “There’s been plenty of highlights to be honest. York has always been a bit of a lucky track for me. I’ve had a couple of doubles there and won some nice handicaps this season. Michael always seems to have his horses in tip-top condition when he sends them to York.

“I’d also pick out Archi’s Affaire, when he won the Silver Bell at Hamilton. I think that’s the oldest race in Scotland, and it was some training performance to get him right for that. I remember sitting on the horse in April, thinking he was ready to run. But Michael had to be so patient with him because of the ground. He’d only had one run before the Hamilton race, so he did ever so well.”

There could yet be more seasonal highlights, with Dods set to take a large contingent to Ayr over the weekend for the Scottish course’s three-day Gold Cup meeting.

Having lost his claim, Rodriguez accepts he will have to work even harder to keep his career on an upward trajectory over the next couple of years. If nothing else, though, at least he might find it slightly easier to battle against the weight.

“I’m quite a stocky lad really – people used to say I was built like a bull – so I’ve always had to battle to keep the weight off,” he said. “It’ll be nice to have that extra two or three pounds to play with.

“I know life will be tougher without the claim, but I think Michael wants to carry on supporting me, and that’s great. It’s good to pick up rides here and there, but I always think you’re better with a successful stable behind you. Hopefully, I’ll still have that.

“To be honest, I don’t want to look too far forward yet, because I think we’ll have a busy next month. There’s still a fair bit of racing to come, and because some of the horses have been a bit quieter than usual, they’ve probably got a few more races in them than they might normally have done.

“Then after that, the plan is to stay busy and ride on the all-weather over the winter. I think it’s important to do that to keep things moving forward.”