It doesn’t matter to Zac Lloyd or Dylan Gibbons or Tyler Schiller who wins the champion apprentice crown at season’s end – each say what the others have achieved can’t and shouldn’t be defined simply by a premiership.
Sure, each is keen to etch their name on the honour roll and collect the Theo Green Medal but it doesn’t represent the remarkable story that has unfolded over the course of the year.
Yes it’s about winning, and they’ve done a lot of that, but it’s also about the bond between the young riders that’s driven them to set a high bar for their futures in the saddle.
For the first time, three apprentices have managed to pass 50 city wins in a season. And the trio has done it comfortably with the month of July still left. Two of them have won Group 1s.
“It shows how much myself, Tyler and Zac have achieved in total,’’ says 21-year-old Dylan Gibbons.
“We laugh about how all people want to talk about is the premiership but we’re all rapt with how things have gone.
“It’s been a massive season for us all. Not many apprentices get near 50, if an apprentice rode 20 or 30 they’ve normally got it covered.
“We all bounce off each other, that’s been the best thing. That competitive nature. When we are in the room we’re mates but out there you’re not friends with anyone.
“It’s been good to have that friendly banter and go about our jobs.”
It’s easy to forget that Gibbons is only just completing his first full season of riding in the city. And he does it with that breakthrough Group 1 Sydney Cup win on Explosive Jack as a memento.
Zac Lloyd, 19, didn’t get his Group 1 in 2022/23 but he only rode his first metropolitan winner in September.
And while Tyler Schiller, 24, has been there and done it as the reigning champion apprentice, since his Group 1 success on Mariamia in The Galaxy on Golden Slipper Day in March he’s been preparing to transition into the senior ranks.
That win saw Schiller become the first apprentice to win a Group 1 in Sydney in 15 years, less than a month later Gibbons became the second.
“It’s a thing you don’t expect during your apprenticeship,’’ says Tyler Schiller.
“It’s been surreal when you sit still and think about it but we’re all still striving to be better. I know there’s still plenty of improvement left in myself.
“We all ride relatively light, so I think being light, competitive, young, eager to try our best and all hard workers I think it’s going to show next season.”
Schiller grew up with a harness racing background but deviated to being a jockey not long before being granted a standardbred license. Gibbons and Lloyd are sons of successful jockeys – Andrew Gibbons and Jeff Lloyd.
They’ve climbed the ranks with the backing of experience – Schiller under the guidance of Mark Newnham, who has produced the past four champion apprentices; Gibbons with the Kris Lees stable behind him; and South African born Lloyd joined Godolphin in June last year having started his career in Queensland.
Not only does he have James Cummings on his side he can also call upon former champion apprentice and jockey Darren Beadman for advice.
But what’s marked the rise of these three young riders is their friendship. They’re mates and along with fellow apprentice Reece Jones, who can’t be forgotten in this discussion, have banded together to bring out the best in each other.
Jones isn’t in premiership contention but achieved a milestone by outriding his claim at Rosehill on June 3.
To get a sense of how close they are, you only had to witness Gibbons, following his Sydney Cup win, have to carry Reece Jones the last 25m up the Randwick tunnel to the weighing room after Jones leapt into Gibbons’ arms to celebrate the Group 1 success.
“Having good friends that have the same ambitions as you always helps,’’ says Zac Lloyd.
“It’s very competitive which is great. I think that’s brought out the best in everyone and it might have made me get suspended a couple more times from trying a bit hard.
“I wouldn’t have chosen any other year to come to Sydney and try to compete.”
Gibbons says their friendship came out of nowhere. Out of proximity. They’re all within a few years of each other in age and when working in close quarters you discover common interests.
They play golf together. Video games are a passion.
“We’ve all reached the same level at the same time, the older boys have been there a while and a lot of them go out of their way to help you but there’s a big age gap there,’’ he said.
“We have a lot more in common, we go through the same things together. You spend enough time in the room together and you get talking then you’re working out going for dinner after the races, and it’s all blended from there.”
Schiller likens it to hanging out with your best mates at school, and given they are apprentices it’s probably an analogy that makes sense. After all, they still have their ‘P’ plates on. But his are coming off at the end of July.
“It gives you something else to think about when you ride a bad one,’’ he said.
“You can have a joke and a laugh instead of dwelling on it, if you don’t have that support you can think about the race too much and cook yourself.
“It’s a competitive relationship but it’s good that we can switch it off.
“I think we will all be up there next season and I can’t see us leaving Sydney in the next five years so hopefully we can put that new blood into the system.”
That’s a common theme. Each of them don’t want to be one or two season wonders.
And they each think the others have what it takes to rise to greater heights in careers that are still in their infancy. In Zac Lloyd’s case, he knows there’s still some ironing out to do but he’s had a year that’s already gone beyond his wildest dreams.
“It’s been spectacular. I wouldn’t have predicted myself riding so many winners and outside the suspensions it’s been picture perfect,’’ he said.
“I’ve been close to a Group 1, a couple of placings, if I can keep on the trajectory I’m going, and the support continues, I’m sure my time will come and I can’t wait for that to happen.
“It’s a good foundation for the future. The Sydney jockey room is the best probably in the world.
“The other guys are going to make it quite high in this industry. They can go on to be top riders in the future and hopefully we can all rise together because that’d be great.”
Dylan Gibbons says as amazing as the year has been he knows the degree of difficulty is only going to rise.
His 1.5kg claim will soon be gone but he gains confidence from knowing he’s already proven he can compete on a world class stage on equal terms with jockeys who boast CVs anyone would envy.
“It’s all happened pretty quick and by the end of July I’ll be three years riding,’’ he said.
“I’m not oblivious to the fact it’s going to get harder. I’ve been trying to work as hard as I can because nothing is guaranteed and once that claim goes you’re level pegging with some very good riders.”
The last champion apprentice to achieve 50 city wins was Tommy Berry (50) in 2009-10, before him it was Tye Angland (60 in 2006-07), Hugh Bowman did it in 1999-2000 with 56.5 wins.
Someone will win it in 2022-23 and it will be Zac Lloyd, Dylan Gibbons, or Tyler Schiller. It’s Gibbons who gets to speak for all three when it comes to what the ultimate result means.
“I want to win as I’m sure Zac and Tyler want to win it,’’ Gibbons said.
“But we know there’s a lot more to worry about and we just have to go about our business, and we all know if it happens it’ll happen.
“At the end of the day, whoever wins it, all three of us can look back and say it’s a successful season with or without that premiership.”
– *This article originally appeared in the July 2023 edition of the Racing NSW magazine