Via Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
Promising apprentice jockey Simon Kok Wei Hoong claimed his first feature race win aboard longshot Star Emperor in the $175,000 Group 3 Jumbo Jet Trophy (1400m) on Sunday.
The 23-year-old Ipoh native achieved the milestone at his 33rd Kranji winner since he obtained his apprentice jockey’s licence in January 2018, with his winning haul evenly split between last year’s (16) and this year’s (17), interspersed by a recent Tasmanian three-month stint where he booted home four winners.
By the same token, that baptism of fire in exalted company also propelled Kok to the outright lead in this year’s apprentice jockey title race. Hitherto sharing the driving seat with two-time Singapore champion apprentice jockey and fellow Malaysian Wong Chin Chuen (from Penang) on 16 winners going into the Jumbo Jet Trophy meeting, Kok now stands alone on top with Wong not even his nearest rival technically speaking given he has recently been promoted to the senior riding ranks.
Kok could barely contain his delight at the winner’s circle, but that was already visibly the case in the concluding stages of the race as he came with a rails-hugging run aboard the $83 shot inside the last 200m to outgun another outsider Biraz (ridden by fellow Ipoh apprentice jockey Amirul Ismadi) with a flourish.
When the usually calm and collected Kok knew a first Group win was all but his a few strides before the line, he threw caution to the wind. He jubilantly raised his whip to the crowd in a celebratory gesture that unfortunately set him back by $500 later at the Stewards’ cashier.
To racing data collectors, the victory salute could also be interpreted as an equally apt nod to trainer Leticia Dragon adding a second feature feather to her cap since the Joao Moreira-ridden Rising Empire took out the now-defunct Group 3 Magic Millions Juvenile Championship (1200m) at her first full season since taking over her father, the late Douglas Dragon, in 2012.
Kok could be forgiven for being oblivious to such records (he was a 16-year-old teen riding ponies over fences in Ipoh then), but he sure knew of his own personal record with Dragon.
“This is just terrific, this is what I’ve been dreaming of. It’s my first Group win and it’s come at my very first ride for Leticia, it’s just unbelievable,” said Kok, who has scored for a variety of trainers other than his master Steven Burridge, but had somehow not been booked by Dragon yet, until that landmark win.
“The horse jumped better than he normally does today, and was travelling well at the back. I saw Elite Excalibur in front and as he was the horse to beat, I tracked him up.
“When the other horses went to the outside looking for a run, I got a big gap on the inside, but I was a bit worried as he was one-paced at first.
“But I never gave up and kept riding him hard as I know he’s got a good finish. When I saw Amirul’s horse hang out, that’s when I knew I would win.
“He was actually still a bit one-paced, but the others were not really quickening either. To me, he’ll be better suited by more ground.”
Dragon was in seventh heaven as she came down accompanied by the happy connections of her second ‘black type’ winner, the Unique Racing Stable. The former air-stewardess could not have picked a more well-named race to get her name back up in the lights, the Jumbo Jet Trophy!
“This horse has always shown potential to us. Based on his last run when he ran on for third to Sun Marshal, who went on to win the Derby last week, I thought he would run a good race today,” said Dragon who was assistant-trainer to her father when he last made racing headlines with The Hornet in 2008-2009.
“He’s been working well this prep. I’ve always wanted to give Simon the ride, and after a talk with the owners, I put him on, even if he couldn’t claim (Kok claims three kilos).
“I told him before the race that Star Emperor does not have any early pace and from barrier five, to just ride him where he was comfortable.
“Simon rode him great, at the 600m, he made his move and sneaking up on the rails to beat them was such a great winning move.
“No doubt it was a big step-up in class for the horse, but he has risen to the occasion. I’ll see how he pulls up and then look through the programme, but let’s do that later.
“We’ll just enjoy today’s win. There won’t be any big party, I’ll just go home early for a quiet dinner. We still have to wake up early tomorrow!”
It is, however, odds-on that Kranji’s first female trainer (New Zealand’s Donna Logan joined her last year) will go and watch that 2019 Jumbo Jet Trophy replay more than half a dozen times before calling it a day.
The rather smallish 10-horse field was evenly spread out as Biraz took up the running for Amirul to set a fairly steady tempo to the race.
Super Power (Krisna Thangamani) was next in line followed by former 2014 Singapore Horse of the Year War Affair (Vlad Duric) in the handiest spot in transit he had been for a while now.
The more popular picks were biding their times at the back in the early stages, but it was nothing too alarming at that stage. Favourite Elite Excalibur (Michael Rodd) had settled worse than midfield, ahead of the likes of the resuming Circuit Land (Daniel Moor) and Jumbo Jet Trophy title defender Preditor (Matthew Kellady).
But as Biraz got on the swing for the run to the judge, they were all still a bit further out of their ground than expected. At that juncture, it was old warrior War Affair who was looming as the biggest threat as he drew on terms with Biraz at the 300m.
Could the record holder of 16 wins, five at Group level and more than $3 million in stakes, suddenly turn back the clock (last win came when he dead-heated with Storm Troops in the Group 3 Saas Fee Stakes in May 2017) and get right smack into the big time for old times’ sake – and his legion of fans’ as well?
The fairy tale lasted only three seconds, though. In his heyday, the O’Reilly eight-year-old, would have put his rivals to the sword at that point, but those ageing legs don’t have the same spring mechanism anymore.
War Affair tapped deep into his reserve, but at the furlong pole, the veteran soldier had bravely fired his last shots. Up on his nearside, the more youthful Star Emperor – relatively speaking as the Red Giant is actually a rising six – had in the meantime hit top gear as he cut a lone figure hard up against the rails, while most of his rivals had swung out to the other end across the track.
A surprising Biraz, who was also taking a huge leap of faith in class, plugged on gamely to take second place a half-length away while Elite Excalibur, noted for his almost flawless first-up record, just lacked that killer instinct this time around.
The son of Fastnet Rock had no excuses. He was not lumping a big impost (54.5kgs), loomed at the right time down the middle of the home stretch, but just found two better on the day. He still ran on pleasingly to come up short by a short head from Biraz, beating War Affair out of a podium finish by another short head.
Star Emperor clocked the winning time of 1min 21.84secs for that third win that has bulged his prizemoney past the $170,000 mark for his connections, which is about 25 times more than the NZ6,500 he earned for his solitary win for Wanganui trainer Wayne Marshment in an obscure race over 1200m on a heavy track at Woodville in New Zealand where he was known as Stealth Giant.