By Michael Lee – STC
Perth jockey Joseph Azzopardi stepped up to the plate when chosen to be the replacement jockey on favourite Nimble in Friday’s $85,000 Class 2 race over 1100m, duly keeping the unblemished run stretching to five from five.
With jockey Troy See stood down for personal reasons early in the morning, trainer Leticia Dragon had to searching for a new jockey and went for relative unknown Azzopardi.
No doubt with many jockeys suspended, Dragon had a reduced pool of riders to pick from, but it was still a big nod to the 23-yar-old rider given he was still a relative unknown even if rode a winner (Drone) at only his second Kranji meeting on April 12.
Maybe it was the Perth connection – although Azzopardi has never ridden the Patronize four-year-old at his 10 starts for one win for trainer Stephen Miller in Perth – but the impromptu pairing on Good Friday certainly got on like a house on fire.
Such small seven-horse fields can turn into tactical affairs at times, but Azzopardi seemed to be in full control when he elected to settle the $11 favourite at the rear.
Webster (Chin Chee Seng) steadied up the ship to an even tempo upfront but as Mokastar (Ben Thompson) came serving up to him at the top of the straight, Azzopardi decided it was time to turn on the heat.
The afterburners did not ignite right away, though. Mokastar was three lengths ahead and still going great guns while, alarmingly, Nimble’s action was more that of a flat-footed horse.
On the other hand, Elite Power (Benny Woodworth), the one tagged as his biggest threat, was at that point etching a better impression on the outside.
But once Nimble got a few tastes of the persuader, the strides started to lengthen up. For some reason, it was only when it became crowded as Augustano (Daniel Moor) and Elite Power hung in under pressure that Nimble suddenly exploded between runners to go and score another impressive win.
A gallant Webster was able to hang on for second place another half-length away with Mokastar third another three-quarter length away. Elite Power, who was bidding for a third win on the trot, had to settle for fourth place another short head away.
Nimble established a new Class record of 1min 4.75secs for the 1100m on Polytrack. That fifth success has now swollen his local account past the $200,000 mark for the MMW Stable.
“I had to pick my way coming off the corner and he found the line as I thought he would,” said Azzopardi.
“I looked at his form and he does feel like a good horse. He is a nice strong mover.
“He just keeps winning and I think he can keep going up in grade.”
Dragon will wait for the dust to settle before deciding where the bid to remain unbeaten heads to next. Either way, it will be his biggest test – either the Group 3 Rocket Man Sprint (1200m) on May 5 or the ultimate prize that is the Group 1 Lion City Cup (1200m) on May 25.
“He’s a very progressive horse, but based on his trackwork, you wouldn’t believe what he’s done here,” said Dragon.
“He’s really casual and so relaxed. We’ll see how he pulls up and then we’ll decide if it’s the Rocket Man Sprint or the Lion City Cup.”