James Winks guiding the way for jockeys

15 May 2023 Written by Michael Lynch

Former jockey James Winks assists established jockeys, many of whom have already notched up major career successes, offering help, advice, guidance and mentoring.

James Winks was forced to quit riding through illness, diagnosed with syncope, the medical term for fainting, at the age of 36. This was after a career that yielded more than 1000 winners, five at Group 1 level, and rides in several different countries. 

After retiring from the saddle in September 2020, he thought long and hard about what he might do. He wanted to stay in the racing game and decided to set up a jockey coaching business.

“When I finished, I thought about what I lacked when I rode. I realised it was someone to go over everything with, someone who could relate to what I was doing and where I might have been making wrong decisions and where I could improve on what I was doing well.”

The idea quickly took off, and Winks found a team of clients in Melbourne such as jockeys like Zac Spain, Jordan Childs, Ben Allen, Daniel Moor, and the late Dean Holland, who was also a very close friend of Winks. He also helps riders in Sydney, where Sam Clipperton and ex-Melbourne rider Regan Bayliss are clients, and in Brisbane, where Jake Bayliss seeks his advice.

“I had a great respect for and great relationships with my fellow riders, and I feel they can open up to me. Depending on each individual and what they need, they can talk to me about anything. It can be racing, it can be anything to do with their personal life.

The job is all-encompassing.

“Before a race I do the form, then we talk about their rides and discuss the way things may unfold. Although, once they leave the machines, anything can happen.

“Afterwards, I dissect their rides. Each individual has things they want to improve on, whether it is style, corner work, how they present at the races. It’s not one thing, it’s a range of things.

“It’s compulsory that they ring after every meeting. It’s important for them to get things off their chest, to go through what they have been doing and then start the next day fresh and ready to go.

“I am very big on trusting yourself, your ability, and your decisions. One decision can cost you the race in a split second, and if you are not confident you won’t always make the right call. If you go with your first decision you might cop a kick in the bum, but at least you will have tried and trusted yourself.”

Monitoring the mental health of his clients is another component of the job.

“With every athlete, it is their job. People forget that, they see it as glamorous, but it is hard work. People don’t realise that jockeys ride a lot more losers than winners.”

In a digital age where everything can be analysed online, Winks also helps his clients through negative feedback. “You have to dissect in your mind that a lot of time you are being defeated. You get trolls on Twitter and Instagram, and I try to get the boys to clock off from all that stuff. It’s hard not to look at it, but they need to realise these people have no idea.”

He recommends gym sessions, yoga and meditation to his clients, anything that will help them to do their best in their job.

VRC National Jockeys Trust Race Day acknowledges the amazing jockeys who bring every race to life with dedication, bravery and skill. Join us as we raise awareness and funds for the National Jockey Trust which provides a range of important support to ill or injured jockeys and their families. Tickets selling fast, don't miss out!