Jockey Ray Dawson feeling in good shape mentally and physically as he targets improvement on last season's numbers
If Ray Dawson is to one day scale the heights he is aspiring to reach, then the remainder of this year could well prove to be the catalyst.
The 2020 campaign was very much the jockey’s breakthrough – a term in which the right doors started to be left ajar.
Riding primarily for the likes of Newmarket-based trainers Robert Cowell, TJ Kent and Roger Varian, the 27-year-old chalked up a season-best return of 33 winners.
And he capped a memorable 12 months in November by riding Ismail Mohammed’s Good Effort to victory in the Listed Betway Golden Rose Stakes at Lingfield.
A broken collarbone suffered in a fall at Newcastle in March of this year briefly halted that upward trajectory, but Dawson was back in the saddle on All-Weather Finals Day last week, piloting Documenting to fifth place in the Bombardier Mile Championships Conditions Stakes.
And now he has designs on proving that last year was no flash in the pan – with the next few months potentially crucial in terms of how his career unfolds.
“Last year was important, but it was unexpected at the same time,” said the Lakenheath-based jockey.
“I didn’t expect it to happen as quickly, but then it was a case of ‘wow, look at these horses I’m riding and who I’m riding them for’.
“In a way I’m in a little bit of a vulnerable position because this is a very important year.
“I want to be the most successful jockey I can be, riding for the big trainers in the big races. If I can do that, in 10 years time I might look back on this year as being key because I’ve got to improve.
“Mentally I deal with it race by race, but I’m in competition with myself all the time.
“I’d be happy to ride 50 winners this year, but I’m really looking to double the amount from last year.
“A year is a long time in racing. It’s fickle and what you’ve done before can quickly be forgotten, so I’ve got to keep on improving my numbers – it’s a numbers game.”
The fact that Dawson was ready to race on Good Friday was pretty remarkable given that a little more than four weeks had gone by since he suffered the injury in the north east.
However, with some of the sport’s best recovery facilities on his doorstep, he has been able to get back quicker than anticipated.
“I managed to be out for just 29 days in the end,” he added.
“There’s never a good time to get injured, but I suppose if you’re going to do it, right at the start of the season is probably the best time because there’s still plenty of racing left.
“I’m lucky to have Peter O’Sullivan House close by in Newmarket. I was there four days after breaking the bone and then it was every day from Monday to Friday, working hard with the physios.
“If I didn’t have all of that, I’d have been out for at least another two or three weeks. I might have missed out on the odd winner already during that time off, so I’ve got a little bit of catching up to do.”
As well as now being in a good place physically, the Irishman also feels in top shape mentally.
His past problems with drink and drugs have been well documented, and he has also spoken candidly about battles with depression.
Thankfully, Dawson has come out of the other side and is determined to make the most of his second chance.
“I’m very lucky that I’ve got another chance, both for my career and my life,” said Dawson, who is part of agent Adam Brook’s stable of jockeys.
“I’ve managed to get things back together after some real struggles.
“I’ve had help from a lot of people, I’m lucky in that sense, and I want to repay them with winners.”