SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER //
GET 'MICHAEL COX ON MONDAY' DIRECT TO YOUR INBOX
Dylan Gibbons didn’t have to look far to find a role model growing up and following his father Andrew’s footsteps, the apprentice has his sights set on a long and lucrative career.
For Dylan Gibbons it wasn’t a case of deciding to become a jockey, in fact he can’t recall a time when his intention was to be anything else.
What Gibbons does remember, however, are the words ‘but you’re too tall to be a jockey’.
He was a regular at the races as a youngster, following his jockey father Andrew around the provincial circuit. As a teenager his intention was clear but so was his height; when he started riding at 16 he was already taller than his dad and soon sprouted to more than 170 centimetres. Yet, as the doubters kept on with the ‘too tall’ comments, Gibbons simply used it as fuel for his competitive fire.
“Being tall, it probably helped me learn to block out that extra noise,” Gibbons says. “A lot of people doubted me and a few would just say straight up, “you won’t be a jockey because of your height.
“I think it just taught me to ignore people like that and gave me that grounding to not worry about what other people think. To just go out there and do your thing, and let the results speak for themselves.”
Through just over two years of riding those results have been outstanding. After 86 winners in his first season in 2020-21, Gibbons rode 116 in his second term to finish fifth overall in the New South Wales state premiership. The 21-year-old – now with his sights on the metropolitan apprentice title – has jumped out of the blocks in 2022-23 with 32.5 winners so far.
The idea that Gibbons will eventually grow too tall persists, but the rider himself is confident that weight won’t stop him.
“A lot of people have this perception that I struggle with weight,” Gibbons says. “But so far, so good. I don’t think I have ever had to sweat in the bath to get to the races and I have never skipped breakfast, and never had to miss a meal. I am walking around at 53 kilograms and if I really knuckle down I can get down below that even.”
Gibbons may have an old-school mentor in his father but it is his exposure to education around nutrition via a Racing NSW apprentice school program that has helped hone his cooking skills and maintain his weight naturally.
“The apprentice school has given us access to nutritionists and I have actually learnt a lot. It is good finding out what food to give your body. I am really into cooking for myself, I enjoy it,” he says.
“Regardless, I haven’t had as much trouble with weight as people imply. Things are going well.”
Gibbons was going to his local Newcastle Racecourse every second Saturday before he could walk. He was there with his grandparents and watching his father at close quarters.
“I used to go to the races flat out,” he says. “I never had to ask him much, I used to just watch and listen. I would listen to him talk to owners and trainers pre-race, I was just a sponge around dad, and I took everything I could from him, and that was 95 per cent of what I learnt. If I didn’t get that chance to follow him around and observe him, I wouldn’t be where I am.”
Gibbons has outridden his country and provincial claims so when he rides against his dad it is on equal footing. The day we get the photo for this story at Muswellbrook, ‘dad’ is taking Dylan to school, winning the first two races with dynamic rides that combine tactical smarts and tenacious finishing drives.
Of Andrew Gibbons 1312 career winners, more than 800 have been on his home state’s far flung country tracks like Muswellbrook and 400 on the provincial circuit, but try telling the tough types who ply their trade on those tracks that it is second or third tier.
Dylan doesn’t rattle off big names when asked for role models, he found his hero during those years watching and listening.
“He never rode in the city much but everybody I spoke to, not many people had a bad word to say about him,” Dylan says of his father. “I know that I am his son, and maybe people will think I am biased, but a lot of people who are good judges liked him and he had good support from the right people.”
Gibbons is still claiming two kilograms in the city and he has rides in eight of the 10 races at the standalone metropolitan fixture at his home track on Saturday.
It was at The Hunter meeting last year that a masterful frontrunning ride on Matthew Smith’s filly Festival Dancer provided a first stakes win in the G3 Spring Stakes.
4th win in row & deserved black type for Festival Dancer in the Group 3 3YO Spring S. at Newcastle. Festival Dancer is the 100th SW for @CoolmoreAus's Choisir & was sold by Toolooganvale Farm to @mcsmithracing for $33,000 at the 2020 @inglis_sales Classic. #ItPaysToBuyAustralian pic.twitter.com/AGqviufaQG
— Aushorse (@Aushorse_TBA) November 13, 2021
Now the focus is pushing for a metropolitan apprentice title many thought Gibbons was a lock for until Zac Lloyd moved south to join the powerful Godolphin operation.
“A lot of people might have thought I would race away with it … but I certainly didn’t,” Gibbons says. Zac is a great rider and Tyler (Schiller) won it last season and he is not too far away again. And then there is Reece (Jones) as well. They can rack up winners fast, there are some pretty good apprentices out there.
“It’s a long season, I will just try and keep my head down and ride winners.”
That last statement is very much on brand for Gibbons – in for the long haul – but just like when he heard the words ‘too tall’, his competitive fire is sparked when asked about his career goals.
“My long-term goal is to establish myself as a metropolitan rider,” he says. “I didn’t take up riding to poke around and pick up a wage, I want to be the best at it, I don’t enjoy anything unless I am the best.”
GET 'MICHAEL COX ON MONDAY' DIRECT TO YOUR INBOX