By Michael Lee – Singapore Turf Club
Newly-licensed Australian jockey Joseph Azzopardi might not know most of the people at Kranji, but an old acquaintance from Perth turned out to be the one to give him a leg-up at his first day at the office this Friday.
Freshly landed on Monday to commence his three-month Singapore Turf Club contract, the 24-year-old only knew fellow Aussie jockeys Daniel Moor, Michael Rodd, Vlad Duric, Ben Thompson and Glen Boss from his six months spent in Melbourne in 2014/2015.
Jockeys may be mates off the track, and he can get a few pointers about the lie of the land from them, but when it comes to support, the key people are owners and trainers.
Azzopardi, who is of Maltese origin, didn’t know any of them, but was lucky to have one familiar name to throw him a lifeline – Michael Clements’ assistant-trainer Michael “Chopsy” White who worked with Perth trainer Simon Miller for a number of years before he moved to Singapore in 2015.
Those renewed old ties have certainly come in handy for Azzopardi at his new workplace.
Three of his four rides on Friday are for Clements: Official (Race 1), Love Me Tender (Race 4) and Elena Of Avalor (Race 5) while the fourth booking for Alwin Tan is a horse owned by the same connections as Official and Love Me Tender, Thai outfit Falcon Racing Stable – Revolution in the $175,000 Group 3 JBBA Singapore Three-Year-Old Sprint (1200m). For some reason, Azzopardi has no rides at the Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy meeting on Sunday.
“Chopsy used to work for Simon Miller in Perth. He was quick to organise three rides for me on Friday,” said Azzopardi at the Thursday barrier trials where he had one ride, Nova Harbour for trainer David Hill.
“I rode three for him yesterday (Wednesday) at my first day at trackwork, and this morning I rode another five, some for Donna Logan and Revolution as well.
“It’s nice to get a ride in a Group race at my first day. Obviously, Revolution is more of a Polytrack horse, but he’s well and felt good within himself this morning.”
A winner of close to 390 winners (including 15 in Victoria), Azzopardi, who will be at his first overseas stint, would certainly hope the 400 milestone can be reached in Singapore, but knows such a feat would be dependent on how fast he finds his bearings – and the way to the winning post.
Having been used to life at the top in Perth, having to start from scratch again may sound like a daunting task, but Azzopardi is lapping up the challenge at hand.
“I’ve been in the Top 5 in Perth, it wasn’t an easy decision to make, but Perth will never change and will always be there when I get back,” said Azzopardi who had his last Perth meeting on Saturday and rode his last winner aboard My Demi at Ascot last Wednesday.
“All the trainers and owners said they would be happy to have me back. They actually told me I would be silly not to have a go.
“I’ve always wanted to ride overseas and it’s a great opportunity to get a licence in Singapore. I hope to do well here, and regardless of what happens, I will take away a lot from my time here.
“I already like what I’ve seen so far. The facilities are great, the track is different from what we have back home, be it Ascot or Belmont, but it felt nice.
“It takes a while to get used to having so many tracks, though, but I’ll be right.”
After finishing in fourth position at last season’s Western Australian Metropolitan Jockeys’ Premiership on 32 winners (but a whopping 98 winners behind perennial runaway champion jockey William Pike), Azzopardi left Perth in eighth position on 16 winners in the current 2018/19 season.
Among his career highlights are two Group 3 wins in the 2017 WA Champion Fillies Stakes aboard Art Series and the 2018 Gimcrack Stakes aboard Agent Pippa. Azzopardi, who can ride light at 53kgs, has 13 Listed race wins to his name, the latest being the Natasha Stakes (2200m) aboard Jedaffair for one of his staunchest supporters, former master Adam Durrant at Ascot on March 16.
Durrant also provided him with arguably one of his most notable rides, a third place in the Group 1 Victoria Derby (2500m) aboard Kia Ora Koutou at Flemington in 2015.