Mr Malek is Azzopardi’s Derby week special

Ray of hope: Joseph Azzopardi partners Sun Marshal in Sunday's Singapore Derby.
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Via Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club

Joseph Azzopardi couldn’t be happier with the way things have unfolded at his first Singapore stint – even if it’s not been all beer and skittles at times.

The young Perth jockey flew the lids at his first couple of months with a strike rate hovering around the 20% area, but a one-month suspension for foul riding aboard Per Inpower back in April put a spoke in the wheel.

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Azzopardi has kept the flow of winners going upon his return from the sidelines, even if the intensity has dropped off a notch or two. Though he can’t complain with the support he is garnering, he feels he is just warming the saddle at times.

The new Oscar Racing Stable-owned son of Swiss Ace will pit the promising skills he showed at his barrier trial last Tuesday against his own peer group in the $75,000 Restricted Maiden race over 1100m.

Azzopardi rode the Lee Freedman newcomer then and even if he still felt raw and unpolished, he has a good gut feel this is some serious cattle.

“He’s not really fully screwed down yet, but that’s one horse I’m pretty excited about,” he said.

“I rode him in a trial. He was still having a good look around, does a few things wrong, but he wouldn’t surprise me if he comes out and wins quite comfortably.

“I’ve ridden a few good horses here, like for the Falcon Racing, but once they win and go well, Vlad Duric jumps on. That’s the way it is, but I’d like to have my own horse here and Mr Malek might be that horse.

“I could of course make a complete fool of myself here, but I am confident he will run well first-up.”

Azzopardi has also been booked in the two feature races at the weekend, Sun Marshal (for Freedman as well) in the $1 million Group 1 Singapore Derby (1800m) on Sunday and No Regrets for a rare booking for Shane Baertschiger in the $250,000 Group 2 Aushorse Golden Horseshoe (1200m) on Friday night.

While the buzz-o-meter is not flashing as much for those two assignments, hope still remains afloat.

“Sun Marshal can run the trip, and he goes in front or outside the leader. Hopefully, he’s up there and shows a bit of cheek,” said Azzopardi who was aboard at the Sepoy four-year-old’s last-start all-the-way victory.

“I thought I rode him well at his last start. I got him off the bridle in the last 800m – we went through some cheap sectionals and he quickened off really well.

“He’s pretty one-paced and we had to make it a staying test for the others. He dug deep for the win.

“I’m happy with all his work. He’s relaxed and Lee has got him as good as he can get him.

“It’s the Derby, I’ve finished third in the Victoria Derby on Kia Ora Koutou in 2015, that’s the closest I’ve come.

“I haven’t won any Group 1, let alone a Group 2 in Perth, only a few Group 3s, but a first Group 1 in the Singapore Derby would be a nice way to start.”

Should he come up short in the Derby, a Group 2 silverware would still be within the realms of possibility a couple of days earlier, even if Azzopardi is aware it’s a very competitive bunch of babies going headlong into the grand final this year.

“It’s an open Aushorse Golden Horseshoe. I don’t know No Regrets much other than what you have already seen,” he said.

“I only watched his replays. That will be his biggest test with so many good two-year-olds in it.

“Just like Sun Marshal, I hope he’s there for a bit. He needs a good gate as he races handy.

“If we’re in the first four, he’ll be there for a while.”

The Auric Stable-owned son of Showcasing might have finished first at his last two outings, including the third Leg of the Singapore Golden Horseshoe series, the IRT Juvenile Stakes (1200m) on June 21, but he doesn’t win by much.

Azzopardi is grateful he was granted an extension by the Singapore Turf Club even if his indiscretion on Per Inpower could have jeopardised his chances. He has moved on and just wants to show he is worthy of that second chance.

“Things are going well. I just need to keep the momentum going,” he said.

“I’m in a good position in 11th (on nine winners). Back home, it was tough with Willie Pike dominating the championship head and shoulders year in, year out – we had no chance.

“Here at least, Vlad is not out of reach – not for me as I’m too far back, but for guys like Michael (Rodd) and Benny (Woodworth).

“I’d be happy if I can make it into the Top Six by the end of the year. It’ll be hard but I’ll give it a crack.”