By Michael Lee – STC
Three months only after bidding farewell to Singapore, South African jockey Barend Vorster will pop by for a cameo (re)appearance at his old hunting ground next month.
No doubt, the return of the now Adelaide-based and Tony McEvoy-retained hoop has happened sooner than most would have thought, but it didn’t really come as a surprise.
Shortly after trainer Shane Baertschiger announced that his rising star Bold Thruster was skipping the second Leg of the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge, the Group 2 Singapore Three-Year-Old Classic (1400m) on May 3 to instead head towards the Group 3 Rocket Man Sprint (1200m) two days later on May 5, images of Vorster in the red silks atop the black gelding beckoned.
The sprint feature being a handicap race, and with Bold Thruster’s rating taking a three-point hike to 81 after his narrow win in the first Leg of the 3YO series, the Group 3 Singapore Three-Year-Old Sprint (1200m) on Friday night, there was every conceivable chance the son of Turffontein would be at the lower end of the handicapping spectrum.
Stable jockey and heavyweight rider John Powell did the honours in the Sprint given the standard 57kgs allocated for such set-weights events, but Bold Thruster is likely to carry the minimum weight of 50kgs in the Rocket Man.
At his four previous wins when Bold Thruster carried such light weights, it was Vorster the lucky rider who stood in for Powell. History is about to repeat itself in three weeks’ time – despite the 5,400 kilometres that now set Bold Thruster and Vorster apart.
“After he ran last week, Shane called me and told me Bold Thruster was not going to the second Leg and the next option was the Rocket Man Sprint where he would get in at a light weight,” said Vorster.
“He didn’t need to say any more, I accepted right away. When I left, I did say I was hoping not to cut ties with Kranji, and I was happy that was still happening.
“Shane has always been a good supporter of mine, and it was nice of him and the owner to give me the call-up on Bold Thruster, a horse I know so well.
“It’s only a seven-hour flight away. I ride in Adelaide on Saturday (May 4) and will fly to Singapore after that meeting.”
Vorster said he did watch the Tivic Stable-owned galloper just make it in the Sprint first-up, but said it was half-expected given the torrid time had in front.
“It’s a pity the other horse (Lim’s Dream) made him work hard. It’s never easy for a horse to come back after a break, sometimes they just need that first run,” said Vorster.
“To his credit, he held on nicely to win a good race.”
Baertschiger said the decision to recall Bold Thruster’s lightweight and winningest partner was a no-brainer – more so when the paperwork involved was next to nothing.
“Barend’s one-year licence was not cancelled after he left and as he’s a Singapore Permanent Resident, he doesn’t need a work permit,” said the Australian handler.
“All I needed was a clearance from the Stewards and the Club, which I got today. Barend was the obvious choice when we went for the Rocket Man, if he gets in, he would be on 50kgs, and besides, he knows the horse very well.”
Vorster, who put himself on the Australian map at only his second week of riding with a Group 1 win aboard Sunlight in the Newmarket Handicap (1200m) at Flemington on March 9, said things have gone beyond expectations at his new home of adoption.
“It’s been unbelievable. I’ve already ridden 11 winners from 32 rides, it’s going really well,” he said.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and to win a Group 1 race so early was just surreal.
“Nikki (wife) and Brendan (son) have settled in nicely, too. Brendan is already enjoying his new school.
“We’ve been living in an empty house with a couple of tables and a few beds, but our first container of belongings gets in soon.”
Vorster currently can only accept rides from McEvoy given he now holds a sponsored visa, but he should be able to take rides from other trainers once he gets his permanent working visa.
With McEvoy having the weaponry to keep Vorster as a regular visitor at the winner’s circle, be it at Morphettville or Balaklava, he is not complaining, plus it has helped him slot into the South Australian racing system better.
“It’s worked out well to ride for just Tony for now. It’s given me a good chance to find my feet at the right time,” he said.
“If I had been riding for other trainers from the start, it could have led to unnecessary and uncomfortable kinds of experience given I was new to the place.
“As it is, I was able to find my rhythm, focus on my horses and the training system at my yard first. As I get more familiar, I will be able to take outside rides.”
That would of course preclude the plum ride coming up on May 5 in a very familiar place where he spent 15 years – and in a race named after a horse he knows too well, Rocket Man.
Vorster rode the Singapore icon to seven of his 20 wins, including one of his four Group 1 Lion City Cups (1200m) in 2011. He has, however, never won the Rocket Man Sprint or the Kranji Sprint, the name by which the race was known by until 2016.
Michael Lee (Singapore Turf Club)