SOMERSET born jockey Mitchell Bastyan, 19, always dreamt of being a National Hunt jockey, writes Andrew Hollis.

He was not from a traditional racing background. His father was in the Royal Marines and his mother was a Fitness Instructor. He was by, his own admission, not particularly academic. He had ridden ponies since he was nine.  However, it was when he started riding out for local trainer, Simon Hodgson, a result of loaning a pony from him that he really caught the racing bug.

“I rode ponies when I was little. I thought I am not clever enough for school - I really need to find a job I am good at”, recalls Bastyan.

“I used to ride out for Simon Hodgson, as a result of having the pony. I used to rush home from school and rode out in the mornings and during the school holidays too.”

Bastyan, a relatively late starter in the racing industry at 14, began as an amateur with Hodgson’s backing. Hodgson retired from the training ranks after 35 years in the sport in May this year, citing financial difficulties and a lack of winners. His support, Bastyan admits, whilst starting out in the Point-to-Point ranks was invaluable.

“I owe Simon everything," he said.

"He supported me when I was starting out as an amateur and I learned all the basics from him. I would not be in this position without his support.”

He had the perfect start to his career when his first professional ride, Veauce De Sivola won at Lingfield in March.

“Conditions suited the horse that day. Everything was perfect for him. I couldn’t believe my first ride was a winner.”

Mitch is from a National Hunt hotbed in Somerset. His family home is short drive from the powerful stables of Paul Nicholls and Colin Tizzard, while he attended Huish Episcopi Academy in Langport but left in 2014. His career aspirations were clear for Mitch upon leaving education.

“Somerset is a great racing area. There are lots of top-class trainers there. There are loads of opportunities for lads to progress down there. There is always luck involved, though.”

Bastyan, currently sits second in the Stobart Conditional Jockey Championship with 23 winners. The 2016/17 champion conditional, Harry Cobden, is also a Somerset boy and is second jockey at Nicholls’ stable in Ditcheat. 

When asked about his colleague, Cobden said: “Mitch is a great guy. He is improving quickly, rides very well and could be very good in time. He has great potential.

Although Bastyan is now based in South wales with successful trainer Evan Williams, he is acutely aware of his roots and the biggest influences on his burgeoning career. Moving away from the family home was a big decision for the young jockey.

“My parents are the biggest influence on my career for sure," Bastyan said.

Not just as a sportsman but also as a person. They have backed me on so many decisions and had a big say on what I have done.”

Bastyan is a quiet, modest and unassuming individual who remains close with many of his friends from school in Somerset.

“I am a lone-wolf really. I get on with a few lads like Ciaran Gethings and Charlie Deutsch but I keep myself to myself.”

He also admits he found his new-found publicity difficult to deal with at first, with interviews and media exposure an integral part of a successful jockey’s life.

“At first, I was not really keen on the media stuff, but I am getting better at it," he said.

"The media put a lot of money into racing and punters listen to the media. I try and do my best for anyone who wants an interview.”

Bastyan remains typically modest and unassuming when questioned on his season objectives.

“I take it each day as it comes. To survive, to not get injured. I just want to keep my head down and keep riding winners. I haven’t really thought about the championship. Evan is good at keeping me grounded.

“The best advice I ever received was, when you win say nothing and when you lose say even less!”