If Jamie Parkes’s initial sporting career-path had panned out, he could have been playing for Notts County in the big local derby against Mansfield Town last week.
Instead, the 18-year-old was enjoying his first ride in a competitive horse-race to kick-start his new role as a jockey.
Parkes, who hails from Ravenshead, was all set for a career as footballer with the Magpies, spending five seasons with the club. But when he reached the age of 15, he was told, as a skinny kid standing just 4’11” tall and weighing only seven stone, that he was too small to make the grade.
It was a bombshell that he found hard to cope with. But Notts County’s academy boss, Mick Leonard, suggested he could try his hand as a jockey and took him along to the Northern Racing College, near Doncaster.
Parkes, now a strong 5’8”, not only loved it, he also made terrific progress that culminated in his first race last Wednesday. The eyes of the racing world might have been on the Cheltenham Festival. But for Parkes, his family and close friends, it was all about the 8.45 at Wolverhampton, a 10f handicap for 3yos.
The teenager was on board Sociologist for his boss, trainer Martyn Meade, and guided him into a respectable third place. “It was unbelievable,” said Parkes. “The best feeling I have ever experienced. He ran really well and gave me the perfect first ride.
“The build-up made me nervous, but as soon as I put my silks on and got on the horse, I felt all right. With him being 12/1, there wasn’t too much pressure. But about a furlong out, I thought I might win. I was only beaten a neck and a neck. It was really good.”
Now Parkes is hoping to get more rides once the Flat season begins in earnest this weekend when the operation of Meade also switches from Newmarket to a new base at Manton in Wiltshire.
Parkes is employed as the yard’s only apprentice jockey and his other duties including riding out on the training gallops and looking after three horses, including highly-regarded 3yo, Chilean.
“Martyn is an excellent man to work for,” he said. “He gives me lots of opportunities and pushes me to be the best I can.”
Parkes still follows football, but has no regrets about switching to racing. “I’ve really knuckled down, and this is what I want to do now, for sure,” he said. “Every young rider wants to be champion jockey. But my first aim is to ride as many winners as possible, get some good contacts and get a good reputation.”