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A skinny kid's journey to jockey success

As a 15-year-old, Boris Thornton was a skinny little kid, weighing just 48 kilograms dripping wet.

Lucky for him, he comes from a racing family – his father Glenn is a trainer and brother Damien and sister Stephanie are jockeys. A race-riding apprenticeship seemed an obvious choice for the Geelong teenager.

"There was nothing of me, I was tiny. I grew up and had a massive growth spurt after my first two years of riding," Thornton, now 20, said.

That growth spurt meant he "faced a lot of challenges" to complete his apprenticeship, with a riding weight of 59-60 kilograms. The ideal weight for a jockey is just 48-50 kilograms.

"It was tough but I’ve still done well for myself," he said.

Since enrolling in Racing Victoria’s four-year jockey apprenticeship program, Thornton has made quite a name for himself, having ridden 88 winners.

The training scheme, open to a select number of would-be jockeys from the age of 16, develops riding skills in track work, trials and races. Young apprentices also learn about business management, exercise, nutrition, personal training and first aid.

"The program gives another aspect to look at if racing doesn’t pan out. It gives you options in other courses," Thornton said.

Being a jockey is a high-risk profession.

"Riding at 60kmh, perched on the back of a 500kg horse is exciting and exhilarating, but it is also dangerous."

"Even in my short career I've had a number of injuries that have sidelined me. Being a jockey can be a very tough game."

Thornton explained that there is a strong support network for jockeys and the National Jockeys Trust plays a critical role in that. They can provide financial support to injured jockeys facing real financial hardship.

"That’s why I’m really proud to wear the LUCRF Super branded breeches every time I ride. LUCRF Super's partnership with the National Jockeys Trust makes a real difference to riders in need of support when they are at their lowest."

During his apprenticeship, Thornton spent six months riding in Tasmania. That was followed by a stint in Queensland, with Eagle Farm trainer Brian Smith – who was impressed with the young apprentice.

"He is a good kid and has impressed a lot of the other trainers with his strength in a finish," Smith said.

The journey from apprentice to successful jockey is long and arduous. Not everyone has the physical and emotional strength required.

Jockeys need an excellent sense of balance, steady nerves, a competitive nature and a love for animals. They must also be able to make quick decisions under pressure, on and off the race track.

Many apprentices live at the stables of their trainer "master". Their workdays will begin very early, with stable chores and track work.

They learn the high-level race-riding and horse-handling skills they need to compete professionally, and how to ride and take care of horses.

They need to have a solid understanding of horses’ anatomy and physiology. In a competitive environment, this will help understand a horse's behaviour – which can affect its race-day performance.

Like other professional athletes, apprentice jockeys must be physically fit. They also follow strict diet plans.

Thornton said anyone considering a career as a jockey should “ride it as it comes and not take things to heart”.

"Every apprentice is different, some are heavier and some are lighter, and everyone has different battles and struggles," he said.

"We get an opportunity to show that we can ride and hold our own against some of the best."

Photo credit: Getty Images

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