Primary school teacher Paresh Patel is pursuing his childhood dream and love for horseracing, as he learns to ride with Britain’s most successful Flat trainer, Mark Johnston.
Patel, from Wolverhampton, had never ridden a horse before August 2020 but contacted Johnston on a whim last year via email during the Qatar Goodwood Festival, expressing his interest in learning to ride racehorses and exploring a career change into racing.
He heard back from Johnston immediately, who was delighted to support him in learning to ride racehorses. This has meant that whenever possible throughout the past year (with intermissions due to lockdowns), Patel has made a six-hour round trip to Middleham in Yorkshire for riding lessons with Mark and Deirdre Johnston and their team, as well as learning horse care management.
Patel grew up next to Cheltenham racecourse, where his love for the sport was born but decided on the safer option of a teaching career rather than pursuing his passion for racing which he has followed throughout his life.
He hopes his story and positive experience in racing will encourage and inspire young people from urban communities to explore careers in racing and educate them on the opportunities available, whilst he chases his dream years later than planned.
Patel, who has now progressed to riding in a group alongside Johnston’s work riders for morning exercise, said: “I hope that my story will encourage people who may feel they’re unable to take part in racing, to take the first step in getting involved in the sport and make a dream a reality.“
“I have always had a passion for wanting to ride racehorses and last year, I realised that it is never too late to start. When the Johnston Racing Team invited me to learn with them, I grabbed the opportunity.”
“I feel part of the team at Mark and Deirdre’s and it is great to be part of the group caring for and riding such special animals. I hope to continue riding at Johnston Racing and support the team the best that I can.
Patel continued, “I would like my community to have a better understanding of racing and the opportunities that are available for all, and hope through my story I can help inform people of this.”
Johnston who is Britain’s most-winning trainer said: “When I first heard from Paresh it rang some alarm bells with me. Immediately it struck me that he was going to risk his career as a primary school teacher to take a mid-life change of direction into racing. I wrote to him and encouraged him not to rush to burn his bridges and to come to us to learn to ride.”
“Progress has been slower than we would have hoped for Paresh due to Covid restrictions, which have been particularly stringent at times due to him being a teacher in his other life, but he can now ride out with the string.
He continued: “He has made a huge effort to learn to ride but clearly enjoys every minute of it. I hope what he has done will provide inspiration to others, particularly in the British Indian community, who probably never realised that learning to ride and working in racing was an option for them.”
Patel, who continues to teach Year Six pupils in Wolverhampton has recently undertaken a two-week course at the National Racing College during the school summer holidays and will continue to ride regularly at Mark Johnston Racing in Middleham. His aim is to ride in an amateur race in the future, with the hope to one day take out an Amateur Jockey’s license.