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Tyler Schiller hopes setting a target on James McDonald’s back in the Sydney jockeys’ premiership will help him meet the challenge of beating an elite class for his second apprentice title, and push his case for a license in Hong Kong.
Tyler Schiller is in the thick of a memorable battle for the Sydney apprentice title but, after a breakthrough Group 1, has found an ambitious way to motivate himself: set even bigger goals.
As of Friday, Schiller, 47 wins, leads Zac Lloyd (42), Dylan Gibbons (41) and Reece Jones (17) in the apprentice standings, but he has even loftier targets. The first is superstar jockey James McDonald.
Not that Schiller has designs on J-Mac’s premiership-in-waiting – yet – but the youngster figures that if he tries to keep pace with the runaway Sydney jockeys’ premiership leader and six-time champion, who has 75 wins, a second straight apprentice title should naturally follow.
“I keep saying he is a fast bunny to chase,” Schiller tells Asian Racing Report at trainer Mark Newnham’s Randwick stables after a long morning of barrier trials. “I feel like he is a good target because if you keep stepping towards him, then you don’t focus on the ones chasing behind, and it will pull me along.
“It is like when you are in a race and there is a fast one in front of you and you can just track up behind it, and you get pulled along without doing too much work. Hopefully I can keep kicking, keep getting these rides and maintain the momentum.”
Schiller outrode his claim late last year, but has stayed under the tutelage of Newnham – master of the last three champion apprentices in Sydney – so that he can chase a second title and Tye Angland’s modern day record for an apprentice of 60 wins in a season (set in 2006/07).
It would be unfair to Gibbons, Lloyd and Jones – all of them good friends – to say Schiller has bigger fish to fry, but his down home country demeanor hides some serious ambition: he wants to one day ride in Hong Kong.
“Yeah, it isn’t obviously a short term goal, because I still have a bit to do here but I would love to ride in Hong Kong,” he says.
“It seems a nice, structured place and it attracts the best jockeys in the world. I watch it closely, especially what Zac Purton has done there and obviously his rivalry with Joao Moreira, it is highly rated and respected.”
Schiller is 24 and given his recent achievements, his CV seems to already stack up for a stint at Sha Tin. His Group 1 on Mariamia in the Galaxy last Saturday gave him the requisite top level win, and if he can maintain second place in the Sydney ranks behind McDonald then his achievements compare favourably with those of Purton when he made the move to Asia at the same age.
Also on offer for Schiller, if he can maintain his current standing, are possible short term stints in the lucrative Japan Racing Association.
Another factor that would make Schiller a hit in Asia is his weight: he can ride the Hong Kong minimum of 115 pounds easily, and next week he will get down to at least 110 pounds to take over from Purton on Communist in the Doncaster Handicap.
Schiller is clearly riding a wave but a career in the saddle was no sure thing. He grew up in a harness racing family near Young, in the rural Riverina region of New South Wales, his dad Glen and grandfather Peter both trotting trainers.
A career in the sulky seemed more likely than atop a horse, and Schiller competed in mini trotting (pony racing) and even completed the 20 trials required to become a senior trotting driver.
“I loved it, and I would still do it, and I would love to do it after racing,” Schiller notes of his experience with standardbreds.
At 15 he switched to ‘the gallops’, at first working in the stables of old-school handler Chris Hayward and then a horse stud in the region, but was “too weak to ride” and inexperienced working with the more flighty thoroughbred.
At 18 he was apprenticed to trainer Phil Sweeney, but weeks before his first barrier trial, the understated Schiller was involved in what he describes as “a little car accident.”
It may have been a simple accident – he was a passenger in a car driven by a friend that slipped off a wet road – but it had serious consequences. Schiller had broken his back and suffered serious internal injuries. He credits the time spent convalescing with forging a stronger mindset.
“The experience matured me a lot, I had surgery and spent nine months away … six weeks in a brace,” he says. “I had come to love riding horses at that stage but I lost all my strength, I dropped to 45 kilograms and just really wanted to get back on a horse. That time gave me a bit of a hunger for it. From there I just came back, got into trials and was off and gone, it was like getting on a bike.”
It was when Schiller joined Newnham in the city that his development got another major boost. Newnham, a former mature-aged apprentice who comes from a great lineage of ‘teacher trainers’ through Ron Quinton and the ‘master of apprentices’ Theo Green, has guided the careers of recent young stars Robbie Dolan and Tom Sherry.
“He (Newnham) is more a director than a boss, he points you in the right direction, rather than grilling you over bad rides,” Schiller says of the mild-mannered trainer’s style. “He tells you what you are doing wrong and helps you fix it, without putting you on a mechanical horse and making you work through it, he will just show you a replay and say something like ‘See here, you should just start flowing into the race,’ or something simple like that. I still have got a lot to improve on and he is still pointing me in the right direction.”
Of course, Newnham will begin training at Sha Tin in September, and if Schiller can maintain his momentum, he may be getting an invite to join his boss in Hong Kong and a spot on the jockeys roster sooner than later.
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