By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
Top jockey Michael Rodd is returning to Australia amid fears Singapore racing will not resume anytime soon in these “unprecedented times”.
Like all industry participants, the 38-year-old Australian jockey had been under stop-work order since the launch of the one-month nationwide “Circuit Beaker” enforced by the Singapore government on April 7 in its beefed-up efforts to stamp out the COVID-19 pandemic.
The last date of that partial confinement where only essential services (which effectively ruled out horse racing) are still in operation was given as May 4, but with the latest state advisory that the restrictions had been extended to June 1 given the recent surge in cases, especially at foreign worker dormitories, hopes of Kranji doors reopening soon were all but snuffed out – lifting of racing suspension has accordingly been pushed to June 1 as well.
Rodd was the first one to react to that development – feared but certainly not unexpected – two days after the prolonged confinement was announced on Tuesday afternoon, albeit he is not the first to pull the pin. Fellow countryman Daniel Moor left even earlier, on April 6, one day before the Circuit Breaker began.
“Like everybody, I was keeping my fingers crossed we could restart on May 4, but with the extension by another month, our future has become even more uncertain,” said Rodd, who sat in third place on 16 winners, 13 behind leader Vlad Duric after the last race meeting held on April 3 when he bagged a double with War Frontier and Skywalk.
“Financially, it is hard to sustain when you are without income for one month, let alone two months, and we don’t even know how much longer.
“I also miss my family. I haven’t seen my wife and my two young daughters since the beginning of March when they went back to Australia, it was very hard on me.
“You can’t keep twiddling your thumbs at home forever. We couldn’t even ride trackwork as we couldn’t get a special work permit from the authorities.
“As racing was still going on back home, I had to be realistic as I need to earn a living and raise a family. That was the best option for me.
“It’s therefore with a heavy heart that I had decided to go back home. I’ve spent five fantastic years in Singapore, but I didn’t have a choice, these are unprecedented times we are living in and we don’t know what the future holds.”
Even though Rodd is a proud New South Welshman and honed his craft in Queensland, he has picked Melbourne as his next base. It is where he won his most famous race, the Melbourne Cup aboard Efficient in 2007, not to mention the Cox Plate, Victoria Derby and Caulfield Guineas, and also plied his trade before he relocated to Singapore in 2015.
“The Melbourne racing scene is the easiest to get back in at the minute, especially with the Spring Carnival coming up soon,” said Rodd who flies out next Thursday.
“I’ve not sent any feelers to any trainers yet, but I’ve spoken to (Australian racing media personality) Andrew Bensley. He doesn’t muck around on his radio show, the word will be out very soon.
“I will have to serve my 14-day quarantine, and hopefully, I can then start riding shortly after. It’ll be fantastic to be able to ride back home again, even if it’ll be behind closed doors, but that’s the way it was here before we stopped.”
Better remembered for his prolific association with 2016 Singapore Horse of the Year Debt Collector, Rodd might have been restricted by his heavyweight status as a jockey, but his polish in the saddle was peerless as evidenced by the 341 occasions he crossed the line first, the bulk of which came for his staunchest supporter at Kranji, Cliff Brown.
It is no surprise that 13 of his 18 ‘black type’ wins in Singapore came from the Australian trainer, with Debt Collector responsible for eight of them. Ten of Rodd’s feature race wins on the local stage came at Group 1 level, namely one Dester Singapore Gold Cup, three Raffles Cups, two Panasonic Kranji Miles, one Emirates Singapore Derby, two Singapore Guineas and one Queen Elizabeth II Cup.
“My favourite horse was obviously Debt Collector. A few other horses like Affleck, Stepitup (who gave him his first Group 1 win in the 2015 Panasonic Kranji Mile) were good to me along the way, but I have to say I have got a soft spot for Debt Collector,” said Rodd who counts the likes of Atlantic Jewel, Maldivian and Spirit Of Boom among the host of classy horses he partnered in Australia.
“His wins in the big races, especially after he came back from injury were memorable, but in terms of one of my best racing moments, winning the Gold Cup with Gilt Complex will have to be up there as well. It’s hard to draw the line between those two.”
Rodd, whose stint at Kranji has boosted his career tally to around 1,000 winners, stressed this was not farewell.
“This is only goodbye for now. My licence has been extended till the end of the year, and I’m not relinquishing it as I’ll definitely consider returning if racing is back to normal by then,” he said.
“Like I said, it has been an unbelievable ride in Singapore and I’m really thankful to the Singapore Turf Club for giving me that privilege for five years. I also have to thank the trainers and owners for their support and also for the new friendships I’ve made here.”