Via Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
Shafrizal Saleh thought the boss was joking when he was told he would ride stable rising star Bold Thruster this Friday.
The Malaysian apprentice jockey usually jumps on Michael Clements’ second stringers, though he does get the odd leg-up on the better sorts.
To-date, the best horse he had ridden for Michael Clements was Eagle Eye in a Class 2 race over 1100m in April. Shafrizal lived up to the trust by delivering a 10-out-of-10 winning ride.
Still, Shafrizal thought Bold Thruster was one horse who would be out of his league.
The much-hyped four-year-old son of Turffontein joined the Zimbabwean-born trainer’s yard from Shane Baertschiger’s with an imposing record of six wins from nine starts, three of which were scored back-to-back in Group 3 races.
At his first start for his new yard on August 25, the Tivic Stable-owned black gelding nearly made all in the Group 2 Merlion Trophy (1200m), only caught late by new stablemate Countofmontecristo. Perth jockey Joseph Azzopardi was the one who rode Bold Thruster in the weight-for-age race.
Shafrizal is aware he got the nod mainly owing to his two-kilo claim in Friday’s $85,000 Class 2 race over 1200m on turf given Bold Thruster was slapped with the top impost of 60kgs.
But he was grateful for the trust and recognition given the stable could have still used a more experienced pair of hands for such a high-profile steering job.
“I thought it was a joke when Mr Clements told me I would ride Bold Thruster in a race,” said Shafrizal, who was among the young guns during his apprentice days in Penang, riding 43 winners all-up across the Causeway before moving to Kranji in 2016, bringing up a haul of 26 winners, thus far.
“On Monday, Chopsy (assistant-trainer Michael White) told me I was booked for the ride this Friday. I don’t gallop him as the other boys do that, but I did canter him this morning and he felt really good.
“I think he needed the run at his first start for us, and he’s improved a lot from that run. He’s a very relaxed horse, and a nice horse to ride.
“He didn’t have blinkers on then. I know he is a lot more switched on when he has the blinkers on in his races.”
Shafrizal said he had been watching Bold Thruster’s past videos many times since the booking, but that go-forward pattern might not be so straightforward from the awkward alley in 13.
“He’s a frontrunning type, but barrier 13 is bad. Chopsy and I haven’t talked yet how to ride him, we will do that before the race,” he said.
To Shafrizal, though, the countdown to the plum ride has already begun in his head. The fact that he acquitted himself well the last time he was handed a quality horse like Eagle Eye has also given him an extra boost.
“The boss gave me the ride on Eagle Eye once, and I won,” he said.
“Of course, this is an even better horse, and there’s a bit of pressure, but I’m happy the boss is giving me more chances.”
As to the title race in this year’s Singapore champion apprentice jockeys’ premiership, Shafrizal, 31, has all but thrown in the towel with fellow Malaysian Simon Kok Wei Hoong well clear in front.
“Cannot catch Simon anymore,” said Shafrizal.
“It’s now between Syahir (Abdul), Zy (Nor Azman), Amirul (Ismadi) and myself to fight for second place.”
On 27 winners, Kok is currently 14 winners clear of Shafrizal, while Syahir is on 12 winners and Zy and Amirul have 11 winners apiece