Switch to Roger Varian's yard is helping Gavin Ashton put a tough year behind him
Last year was a tough one for most people, but for Gavin Ashton it was a particularly tricky period in his life.
It was back in 2019 that the jockey started to make a name for himself, capping a positive 12 months by winning the Apprentice Hands and Heels Series title.
He’d also switched from Sir Mark Prescott’s yard to Shaun Keightley’s in Exning. All in all, 2020 was shaping up to be a big year for Ashton, only for everything to then unravel.
An unexpected lack of rides for Keightley forced the 24-year-old to reconsider his options. He’d built a life in Newmarket having moved down from Oldham, but it quickly became apparent that opportunities at HQ were limited.
A switch to the Midlands to link up with Ian Williams followed, but the first lockdown soon came into force and while he tried his damnedest, Ashton could not settle.
“Shaun parted ways with one of his owners and it left me in the middle a little bit,” said Ashton, who also works at The Kentford Pub on Bury Road.
“There was not enough horses left to support me. We’re still good friends, that’s just the way it was.
“It gave me some time to think. I remember being at The Kentford, where I was living. The owners have got two Rottweilers who I treat as my own and one day when I saw them, I just burst into tears.
“I didn’t want to leave Newmarket. I’d made friends, my girlfriend lived there and I loved being at The Kentford. But if I was going to make it as a jockey, the opportunities were elsewhere.
“I had to make the decision for my career and that’s when I joined Ian, but within a couple of weeks we were locked down.
“I was living in accommodation in the yard and all of a sudden I’m shut in with a lot of people I don’t know. I tried to make the best of a tough situation. I love cooking, so we put on cooking nights, Easter egg hunts, that sort of thing.
“But even when things opened up a bit, I couldn’t join a gym to get myself fit because they were only letting in existing members.
“I didn’t know anyone and then we had two deaths in the family within five weeks.
“I wouldn’t say I was depressed, but I was frustrated with the whole situation and had become sour. My riding suffered, I wasn’t riding well at all.
“It got too much and I ended breaking down to Ian, telling him everything. He was fantastic, we chatted it through and decided the best thing for me would be to spend two months back in Newmarket.”
Late last year Ashton found himself sat in Roger Varian’s office, discussing his situation with the Classic-winning trainer.
Varian was only too happy to bring Ashton into the fold at Carlburg Stables, and he has remained there ever since.
No immediate guarantees have been made, but being tied to such an established yard, the former semi-professional footballer believes he could not be in a better environment.
“I fell in love with the place within the first week,” he said. “I thought I was going to have to go back just after Christmas, but after talking with Roger, he said he’d be happy to support me if I stayed in Newmarket. He couldn’t promise me anything overnight, but he said I’ll get some chances this season.
“This is a different class of horse I’m working with now. Sometimes I have to pinch myself because I’m regularly sitting on Group horses.
“I’ve only been a jockey for four years and I’ve got a lot of learning to do, but where better to do it?
“I feel much better in myself as well. I’m happy in Newmarket and excited for the future.”