When jockey John McKee, the 21-year-old Ohio native climbed aboard his first mount on Friday, he did so as a journeyman rider. McKee's days of riding as an apprentice jockey ended on Thursday with 274 career wins under his belt.
As McKee puts his apprentice days behind him and bids farewell to the weight allowance that goes with that status, he hopes to continue to the success he enjoyed in the opening stage of a most promising career.
"I've got a lot of confidence right now," he said. "I want to keep improving and keep learning. Hopefully everything will fall into place."
If McKee has any concerns about leaving the apprentice ranks, they are not evident. He said he is eager to take this next step in his young career.
"You have to take it someday or another," said McKee. "I think it's a good time right now. I've got a lot of confidence in myself."
McKee continues to work horses at Churchill Downs every morning and his veteran agent, Eddie Campbell, remains a visible presence in the track's barn area as the duo works to maintain the young rider's number of mounts as he makes the transition from apprentice to journeyman.
"I've been getting good vibes from everybody," said McKee. "Eddie tells me that everything's going well with that, too."
The younger rider continues to share an apartment with Campbell, who worked with Kentucky-born riding legend Steve Cauthen in the early stages of his Hall of Fame career. Each night, McKee and Campbell take a critical look at every race in which the young rider participated.
"You've got to keep learning every day," he said. "They always say that when you stop learning, you might as well get out of the business. I've got a lot more to learn and it's going to take a lot of time and a lot more experience."
Although McKee is optimistic that his business will continue to grow despite the loss of his apprentice status, he is aware that many other riders have seen their mounts decline significantly with the loss of their weight allowance. If that should happen to him, McKee said it would make no difference in the way he approaches his job.
"Things happen," said McKee. "You've just got to keep your confidence up and keep your hopes up. You've just got to have a level head."