Career is taking off
By GREG WHITE
IN a break between engagements at last Sunday's Coffs Harbour races, jockey Wayne Wheatley told how his career had taken off during the past eight months.
"If I were still living in Coffs," Wheatley said philosophically, "I'd be lucky to get one ride today, provided the horse had 58kg or more."
Now riding from the ultra-competitive Gold Coast, Wheatley is still a frequent visitor to his former base.
But his new in demand status means he now rides up to seven days a week all over Queensland and northern New South Wales, and he couldn't be happier.
"The new work ethic has my weight at 53kg, the lightest since I was an apprentice, Wheatley said.
"I had five rides yesterday at Ipswich at the city meeting to compliment the Magic Millions and five mounts here today.
"This week, I'm already booked for seven rides at Murwillumbah, two at Ipswich's midweek meeting and five at Grafton."
Insiders say Wheatley was always blessed with above average ability but squandered it with a less than positive focus.
A three month loan period to Adelaide for the final stages of his apprenticeship should have launched a great career but things didn't work out.
"I rode winners all over the place but couldn't crack it in the city," he said.
"They sent me riding to places like Kangaroo Island which was a fantastic experience, but when opportunities dried up, I came home to Coffs."
For almost a decade, Wheatley struggled as a part time bush jockey, riding winners here and there, till a chance meeting last May with local star, Zac Purton.
"Zac was working Sir Dex on the way to a Melbourne Cup campaign when he had to go to Sydney to ride," Wheatley explained.
"So he asked if I could come up to ride the horse in work while he was away.
"First day there, Joe Janiak lobbed in with Takeover Target and before I knew, I was on his back as well."
Originally, Wheatley had no intention of racing professionally, but as his list of contacts grew, the opportunity of a lifetime came out of left field.
"Gerald Ryan offered five race rides one day, then Noel Doyle and Kaye Tinsley offered more," he said.
Suddenly, the winners began to flow to the extent Wheatley is now considered one of the gun riders in SE Queensland.
There's still one goal to achieve.
"A Brisbane city win," Wheatley said.
"You can ride winners everywhere but a city win opens all sorts of doors."
Wheatley rides against Purton when the now Sydney-based jockey is in Queensland, as well as the other former Coffs Harbour rider to hit the top bracket, Glen Colless.
"Spike (Colless) is like a king up here," he said.
"Hard to believe but he was once in exactly the same situation as me before he left Coffs.
"Now look at how far he's come."
Another local on the coast is one time NRRA champion Kim Bell, who's career ended prematurely last year following a race fall.
"Kim is still five feet tall but now about five feet wide," Wheatley grinned.
"I reckon he's about 70kg so that's about it for him as a jockey.
"But he's still coming up with outrageous schemes to make millions, so that hasn't changed."
Head down and tail up is Wheatley's future motto.
"There are 600 horses in work on the Gold Coast and somebody has to ride them," he said.
"May as well be me."