By Bernie Pramberg
Champion apprentice Jag Guthmann-Chester is just as comfortable riding a surfboard, snowboard, skateboard or dirt bike as he is a thoroughbred.
Gold Coast-based Guthmann-Chester celebrated last season’s victory in the metropolitan apprentice jockey’s premiership by snowboarding the slopes of Perisher in the Snowy Mountains.
The 19-years-old admitted a few anxious moments during the early stages of his two-week break which started shortly before the end of the racing season.
“I booked the trip when I was about 12 wins clear in the premiership but my lead was down to six when I actually left for Perisher,’’ he said.
“There was a bit of time left in the season so I was a bit edgy and was checking the results after every meeting.’’
In the end, Guthmann-Chester maintained his lead with 23 winners, four ahead of Michael Murphy with Taylor Marshall and Boris Thornton a win further back on 18.
Guthmann-Chester’s premiership was significant on a couple of counts … he had ridden just a solitary metropolitan winner prior to tackling the 2017/18 season and then he was sidelined for about 15 weeks because of injury and suspension.
“It was always a goal of mine to win the metro premiership from when I first started riding,’’ he said.
“I’d been leading apprentice on the Gold Coast the previous year and got going pretty quick in town thanks to the support of trainers like Steve O’Dea.
“Then I broke my foot in a fall at Doomben which kept me out for 10 weeks. But with a bit of luck and good support I was able to come back and win it … I was pretty happy.’’
Guthmnann-Chester, who has lived all his life on the Gold Coast and completes his apprenticeship with trainer Bruce Hill next July, has been into action sports as long as he can remember.
“Long before I got into horses I grew up with bikes, motor bikes and surfboards,’’ he said.
“At school all my mates were into surfing and skateboards … we’d hang out at the skate park.
“I still love doing all those things but obviously can’t do them as much as back in those days.
“But I still try to get out and do something two or three times a week.
“I believe if your head is totally around work you can burn out. A lot of my friends outside racing have similar interests to me and that is good for my headspace.
“I know that I need to take breaks physically and mentally.’’
For the past four years, Guthmann-Chester has managed to take a break from racing each winter to travel to the snow.
“It’s awesome. The first time I went I skied, but then I switched to snowboards which are a lot of fun.’’
Guthmann-Chester acknowledges the difficulty in organizing time off from riding and stable duties with his boss, Bruce Hill.
“You just can’t go whenever you like because I have responsibilities with Bruce. But I try to organise things with him in advance so there is plenty of time to make arrangements while I’m away.’’
Guthmann-Chester has no doubt he needs an annual break to “freshen up” from the intensity and routine of the racing industry.
“A lot of jockeys get way when they are suspended but I feel I need a break irrespective,’’ he said. “I’m not going to take time off in the middle of the season but I need a break at some stage.’’
Guthmann-Chester, who topped the apprentice’s table at the Gold Coast in 2016/17, rode his first winner at Gympie on 22nd August, 2015.
“It was my first day race-riding and there had been a lot of rain the night before and there were doubts the meeting would go ahead,’’ he recalled.
“I’d psyched myself up and would have been disappointed if it had been called off.’’
Guthmann-Chester’s initial win on the mare Special Rose relegated another apprentice, Michael Murphy to second. Ironically, three years later they would quinella the Brisbane metro apprentice’s title.
Guthmann-Chester was aged 15 when he entered Hill’s stables at the Gold Coast in December, 2013.
He’d just finished Year 10 and was working at a McDonald’s outlet.
“I was a bit of a troubled kid at school … I hated it and was always looking for a job,
“My grandfather (David Chester) wanted me to be a jockey but I wasn’t really interested because I’d had nothing to do with horses,’’ he said.
Guthmann-Çhester’s father, Martin, had been apprenticed to trainer Kaye Tinsley on the coast during the 1980s but moved away from racing before riding in a race.
“Dad had done all his trials and jump-outs and was about a month away from riding when he broke a wrist and was out for eight weeks,’’ said Jag. “When he came back he broke it again and got heavy, lost interest and moved on in another direction.
“My grandfather wanted me to have a go at it … I was small and had good balance.’’
Towards the end of Year 10, his grandfather phoned to say he’d arranged an interview with trainer Bruce Hill if Jag was prepared to attend.
“I thought ‘why not, I’ll give it a crack’’.
“When I told mum and she blew up and had me on the computer searching for all the bad things that can happen to a jockey.’’
But the kid went ahead with the interview which he found quite daunting at the time.
“Not a lot was said, but Bruce told me if I was keen to do it I had to give 100 per cent effort and be prepared for a few spills. I think I was in a bit of shock but said ‘yes’.’’
Guthmann-Chester was barely 35kgs when he started riding, mainly under the guidance of Hill’s foreman, ex-jockey Don Barron.
“I had a lot of good help on the ground with Donny and picked it up fairly quickly,’’ said Jag.
“Donny played a big part. If he hadn’t been there to help me the process of getting to the stage of race-riding would have taken longer.
“I got the technique of riding okay but was only 36kgs and my main worry was holding them. I had a couple of horses do fast laps around the track on me and got a little frustrated.
“But Donny said to be patient and after another few months I was able to hold the stronger ones.’’
Hill’s assurance in the job interview that Guthmann-Chester would endure some spills was prophetic.
Before he’d ridden in a race the apprentice had copped a broken hand, fractured pelvis and cracked ribs from accidents.
But attitude and resilience prevailed as the youngster worked hard at becoming a race rider.
“Early on Donny Barron told me to watch Joao Moreira as much as I could and I like to watch other good jockeys as well. But as I became comfortable with my style I found I didn’t try to copy anyone specific.’’
As with most riders, Guthmann-Chester’s weight is something he must maintain as these days he walks around at about 56kgs.
“I was 36kgs when I first started, was 46kgs at my first race ride but the last 12 months my weight has crept up,’’ he said.
“I’ve been managing it okay but know within myself I could do better. One of my goals this season is to manage it better and be disciplined with diet and other things.’’
Other goals are a successful defence of his apprentice’s premiership and, perhaps, the opportunity to ride interstate.
“If I could go on loan to Sydney for three months it would be a great opportunity learn and kick a goal,’’ he said. “The time to go would be while I still have a 2kgs allowance in town.”
Guthmann-Chester’s best day at the races was at Murwillumbah where he landed four winners from five rides.
He still lives with his family at Main Beach, less than 500m from the surf and only five minutes drive from the Gold Coast track.
He has an older brother, aged 21, and a sister, 16, who is still at school.
And his mother, initially aghast that her son wanted to make a career of riding racehorses, is now an avowed fan.
“Not having to move out of home was an ideal situation for me. It’s played a big part in what I’m doing,’’ he said.
“If you’ve had a bad you are coming home to your family … that’s important.’’
Guthmann-Chester has absolutely no regrets about taking a punt on his grandfather’s advice to attend an interview with Bruce Hill.
“If I hadn’t become an apprentice jockey I could not possibly tell you what else I’d be doing today.’’