04/15/2011 12:28PM

Hastings: Apprentice jockey Scott Williams hopes to follow in footsteps of father, grandfather


VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Apprentice jockey Scott Williams is hoping to catch on in a big way at Hastings this year. It wouldn’t be the end of the world for Williams if he didn’t. He could always return to Alberta, where he had a lot of success in 2010, winning 15 races from 49 mounts at Grande Prairie and 14 more from 96 rides at Northlands Park. When the meet closed in October he also was competitive in Ontario, winning six races at Woodbine and five at Fort Erie.

Williams, who was born in Vancouver, wants to ride at Hastings, though.

“I have a lot of family in Vancouver and this is where I want to ride,” he said. “It would really be nice to stay.”

Williams certainly has the pedigree to be a good rider. His father, Danny Williams, was the leading apprentice at Hastings in 1978. The elder Williams has been a jockey agent since 2000 at Woodbine, where he currently books mounts for Jim McAleney. He handled Scott’s business when he rode in Ontario.

“I’ve been coming to the track with my Dad since I was one,” said Williams. “I loved it from the start.”

His grandfather, Ronnie Williams, was also a successful jockey in Vancouver and was inducted into the B.C. Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1989. He died from a brain aneurysm when he was only 32. He was married to Barb Williams, who raised Danny and has been a major influence in Scott’s life.

“I am really looking forward to riding in front of my grandmother,” said Williams. “She’s seen me ride on television but never live.”

After graduating high school he decided to go to Olds College in Alberta, where they have an exercise rider and jockey training course.

“My dad and I decided it was the best way to really learn,” he said. “He got me started riding but he was pretty busy being an agent and we lived in the city. It was a great program. After I finished the course I went to Northlands, where I was taken under the wing by trainer Tim Rycroft. I learned a lot in the program at Olds College but Tim really taught me how to ride.”

Williams, 21, also worked as a valet in the jocks’ room at Northlands Park for 2 1/2 years before he began his riding career in Grande Prairie last summer.

Speaking from Woodbine, his father said he would have liked Scott to stay in Ontario and give Woodbine a real shot.

“He spent all winter in Florida getting on horses for prominent trainers based here and they really liked him,” said Danny. “But you have to let them do what they want to do, and he really wants to ride in Vancouver. When he made the decision I just told him that my dad and I were both the leading apprentices in Vancouver and it would be pretty special if he keeps up the tradition. All I can do is wish him luck.”

Apprentice credits Snow for learning to ride

Marlo Dunn, 22, is the only other apprentice currently riding at Hastings. She started her career here last year where she won a race from her first nine starts.

Dunn’s first exposure to riding was with show horses at a young age. She gravitated to the track when she was 16.

“I was a pretty bad teenager,” she said. “I dropped out of high school and I really didn’t want to do anything. My dad kind of kicked me in the butt to get a job.”

Her first job at the track was as a groom for Dino Condilenios, but she really wanted to ride.

“When I quit school my dad took my riding privileges away,” she said. “I was pretty jealous of the exercise riders here.”

After getting her exercise license she went to work for trainer Robert Gilker and his wife Vicky. Vicky exercises most of the horses in the barn. Dunn said she learned a lot of valuable lessons working for the Gilker team.

“I learned that trainers deserve a lot of respect,” she said. “They really work hard and they taught me a lot, especially galloping with Vicky.”

At 19, she started galloping and working horses for Mel Snow.

“The best thing that ever happened to me is going to work for Mel,” said Dunn. “He is so easy going and when I first started he never over-horsed me. He helped me learn to relax and he gave me a lot of confidence. He really taught me how to ride.”

The respect goes both ways.

“She’s a real good girl,” said Snow. “She works real hard and she listens to what you tell her. She’s very bright and picks things up quickly. She really tries to get better at everything she does.”