Five in the morning. A time most teenagers would see only if staying out late, partying way into the early hours.
But for Ben Robinson, the fledgling apprentice jockey based at Brian Ellison’s Spring Cottage stables in Malton, it is the time when the Derbyshire-born youngster starts his day.
Each morning, he rises at this early hour to accompany his employer to do the early-morning feed as he dedicates every moment of his life to the sport of horse racing.
Dedication is something that Robinson, who hails from the Ripley area, doesn’t seem to be lacking. Willing to leave home at the age of 16, he has made a home for himself at Ellison’s Yorkshire base and is now part of the furniture, playing a key role in the everyday running of the yard. When asked what the key was to his dedication, it was clear a love of all things racing plays a key part.
“It’s important to be fully engrossed in this sport and you’ve got to love what you’re doing,” he said. “It’s easy to get up early when you love it. After the early-morning feed, I am usually riding work and then it’s off to the races. If I’m not racing, it’s back to the yard at 4 pm for evening stables.”
After growing up around horses on his parent’s livery yard in his home town, Robinson felt that being a jockey was the natural next step upon leaving school.
“My parents suggested I might like to be a jockey and I thought why not,” he said. “I went to the Northern Racing College, who placed me here at Spring Cottage, and I’ve been with Mr Ellison ever since.”
Not long ago, Robinson rode his first career double at Nottingham, an experience the jockey describes as “an unbelievable moment in my short career” and something that “still hasn’t sunk in”.
That duo of victories when partnering Major Valentine for John O’Shea, a horse he has struck up a good relationship with, landing a hat-trick, and then securing the spoils on Tallinski for his boss, hanging on in the dying strides despite losing his whip a furlong from home, took his carerr tally to 17 winners.
A11 of those winners have come since the turn of the year and serve as a timely reminder of Robinson’s talent, which might lead to a bold bid for the champion apprentice jockeys’ title, if not this year, then in 2018.
“By the end of this year, I hope to have my 7lb claim ridden out, and to have ridden as many winners as possible, building my links up with other trainers,” he said.
Ellison, who speaks fondly of Robinson’s ability in the saddle, thinks he is slightly underestimating his potential, and could easily see him using the momentum he has picked up in the early months of 2017 to reach his goal of champion apprentice a year earlier.
A clue as to how Robinson may be used in the current season was given away by Ellison when he was legged up on the yard’s standard bearer, Top Notch Tonto, in the Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster, which kicked off the 2017 Flat campaign. “Tonto is the favourite in the yard,” Robinson said. “Everybody loves him.”
Robinson is also keen to give his boss a nudge to keep the ride on Tallinski, a horse his eyes light up about. “I think he has a big future,” he said. “He gave me a lovely feel.”
Other horses from the Ellison yard that Robinson thinks punters should keep an eye on are Summer Beach and Seamore
But one thing he himself must keep an eye on is his weight which, because he is so tall, could balloon if he is not careful.
“It’s important to look after my body and eat the right food, “he said. “There’s definitely no room for chocolate or sweets!
“The Professional Jockeys Association sends regular e-mails about the right types of food and I try to look after my weight properly by just eating the right things three times a day.”
Ellison also gave comforting reassurance that weight won’t be an issue. He said he wouldn’t let Robinson drop to a weight he wasn’t strong enough or healthy enough to ride at.
It was also interesting to hear the jockey’s views on all-weather racing, a sphere which has provided Robinson with half of his career wins to date and is regarded as a breeding ground for young riders and a crucial stage of their development.
“It’s about helping to build the contacts, ready for the main stuff during the Turf season, and it helps you mould your riding style,” said Robinson, who knows he must mix riding winners with getting noticed to progress his career.
“It’s a balancing act, “ he said. “If trainers see you as a jockey who gives great feedback and who is going to do his best for the horse, then you’re going to get more rides. But the numbers on the board and winners are what are going to catch people’s eyes.
“I see my jockey coach, Russ Garrity, twice a week, and we’re always working on new things. Other than that, it’s about hitting the gym, plenty of cardio and running.”
The racing world is tough and, at times, the weighing room can be a dog-eat-dog world with everyone searching for rides and the source of their next winner. But Robinson knows he can always call upon the advice of his trusted gaffer, whom he holds in the highest esteem. And he looks to some of the stars of the weighing room for further guidance.
“I look up to the likes of James Doyle, who is top class, and Tom Eaves, who is dedicated to the sport, rides well and is someone you can learn plenty from,” he said.
We shall find out over the next six months if Robinson is able to achieve his dream of being champion apprentice. One thing for certain is that this is a man sure to grace a winner’s enclosure near you sooner rather than later. As Ellison says in his distinct northern tone, “He’s a good lad. He’ll do well, no bother about that.”