An Interview with Kevin Parsons - Union Learn Project and Sports Coordinator at NARS
Kevin Parsons grew up half a mile from Salisbury Racecourse and was fascinated by the sunny days of racing there. This led to a career in racing, which has spanned over seventeen years. He has had many roles in racing; riding on the Flat, over Jumps and, after retiring from being a jockey, worked in senior roles within the industry as a work-rider, head of travelling, head lad and now in the office at NARS. Kevin is at the forefront of educating stable staff amongst other tasks. He loves racing and the racing life!
At 40, he now lives in Newmarket with his wife Becky and two children.
Kevin on Aljamaaheer
How and why did you get into racing?
I grew up locally to lots of racing courses and went racing a great deal with my Granddad. I stood by the rails, watching transfixed the jockeys in silks.
My Mum rode with the Wilton Hunt and exercised their horses so it was natural that I had lessons, went hunting and got hooked.
Mum sorted out work experience at weekends and school holidays at Mick Channon’s in Lambourn and I loved it. I then applied to the British Racing School with a year left at school. Prior to going there in May 1996, I was sent to Roger Charlton’s in Marlborough and went back there after completing my course.
Which trainers have you worked for?
At Charlton’s, I secured my license course and had a couple of rides. With opportunities for rides limited, he organised for me to ride out for Ian Balding and David Elsworth with a view to an apprentice’s job. I ended up going to David Elsworth as it was closer to home. In my two years there, I had lots of rides and my first winner.
I was growing and getting too heavy so I went to Richard Rowe’s as a conditional. Yet, foot and mouth (2001) happened so racing was all paused. I was only there 6-7 months and I felt done with race-riding so returned to Roger Charlton’s. I stayed there for 2½ years work-riding and I had another seven rides. Once, I was second at Salisbury, beaten by a neck. My family was there. At that time, I was always struggling with my weight.
Which roles have you had in racing?
After my jockey days, I then became a work rider followed by a bit of travelling at Chris Wall for a year and a half. I then did a bit of second travelling at Eve Johnson Houghton and was there when Tout Seul was fourth in the 2000 Guineas. I did a bit of driving; there was a great team and I looked after and rode “good horses”.
I then went to David Loder, which is when I first moved to Newmarket and rode out the best-bred Godolphin two-year-olds. Goodricke won the Haydock Sprint Cup. But then Loder retired and I went back home to Salisbury as Assistant Trainer to Jeremy Naylor for about two and a half years. I rode out, did a bit of travelling and managed a yard back home – I enjoyed everything. He had his best season and it was great that in such a small team, every winner and place was appreciated.
I then went back to Newmarket to be head of travelling to Chris Wall – it was a great senior role. I stayed four and a half years – it was the best job in racing. I travelled all round the UK, Europe (Ireland, France and Germany) and to Dubai twice – I loved every minute. I got my HGV licence, spent most days in the lorry and was in charge of who went where and who took who – the whole organisation of racing.
What were your best moments in racing?
When The Fugue was third in the Oaks as well as taking her to the Arc, meeting with St Leger winner Masked Marvel, who unfortunately finished down the field, and Elusive Kate who won the Marcel Boussac at Longchamp. This day was my best moment of travelling with a horse to the races, particularly a winner. The hairs on the back of my neck were on end hearing the reception we received walking back to the winner’s enclosure.
What made you want to leave working full time in yard?
My personal life took over! I am a football coach, FA qualified and a UEFA B License, whose activities always took place at weekends and evenings, so I decided not to continue doing the travelling. I left Chris Wall’s so I could do more outside of racing.
I went to John Gosden’s as a lad, but by default ended up driving as I had my HGV license. I went to a lot of great places with great runners, including The Fugue when she was third in the Oaks and the Arc. I then went to Roger Varian’s as a lad, where I rode out very talented horses. Within a year, a new role at NARS came up. It was Monday to Friday – I was just married in 2012 and the job was a new project, a blank canvas.
Describe your role at NARS?
It was a brand-new educational post in the union aimed at improving the education of stable staff using government funding. Subjects included English, maths, ICT – the core stuff. There was one skills course to begin with and currently we’re running numerous weekly courses. Now there are government-recognised qualifications and functionable skills equivalent to GCSEs that I assisted in setting up.
Alluding to my own school experience, when I didn’t bother in my last year, I saw a clear need to refresh on education, especially in the case of people with injuries. There is also a need to retain people within the industry by sidestepping them into other key jobs in racing, such as secretaries.
How has racing changed?
A great deal and definitely for the better! Wages have improved, a 40-hour-week, how the job is as a whole and facilities at the races – there are many positives in social media now. Working practises (appraisals, etc) are evolving with the times, helping with staff retention.
Describe your role in the Lycetts Team Champion Award:
Basically, yards reviewing their policies and practises are always positives. For all the three years the Lycetts Team Champion Award has run, I’ve been one of the five judges. I read the nominations and follow each yard until the winner is decided. Yards that have entered retain many more staff. It’s great to see all the different staff represented through this award.
How can stable staff educate themselves or enhance their CVs?
NARS helps out with writing CVs. The online Racing2Learn is evolving – now there’s even a Mentor and Leadership Module.
Kevin on Premio Loco in Dubai
In a nutshell, can you describe a career in the racing industry?
There are so many opportunities. A lot of my friends have careers they don’t love, but in racing you can travel around the world and ride horses – simply make your career what you want it to be.
What are your other hobbies?
Football coaching, live music and festivals.
What’s your favourite meal?
Steak and chips.
What’s your favourite drink?
Coke Zero or rum and Coke.
Kevin's First Winner