By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
Champion jockey Vlad Duric feels ready to pick up where he left off, even if, as one of the hoops who wage a daily battle with the weighing scales, there is still a few extra calories to burn.
During the first two months of confinement, the Australian – like all foreigners – was not even authorised to ride trackwork. Unsurprisingly, his weight ballooned to 65kgs, but being a Singapore permanent resident, he was given a special dispensation around the time Phase One of the nationwide coronavirus lockdown known as Circuit Breaker took effect.
The three-time Singapore champion jockey, who incidentally won the last race held before the shutdown, aboard debutant Sweet Angeline on April 3, is glad he got a headstart, but the next three weeks before racing resumes on July 11 can only help smoothen out the rough edges further.
“I started off slowly with only a couple of rides with Stephen (Gray). I can only ride for one trainer as per the MTI (Ministry of Trade & Industry) guidelines,” said Duric, who teamed up with the Kiwi trainer, one of his staunchest supporters throughout the years.
“As my fitness improved, I gradually picked up on the number of rides, and I now ride around nine horses every morning. If racing started today, I would be ready to go, even if I haven’t quite reached my riding weight yet.
“Financially, it’s been hard not earning any income for three months, and keeping fit in the first couple of months was also challenging.
“It was a bit of a balancing act for me, as you don’t want to lose too much weight and lower your immunity with the virus around us. It was hard, but I’m glad it’s all worked out in the end.”
Duric said he hoped to revert to freelance mode soon so he can ride work for other trainers as well, but at the same time, deplored the sudden drop in numbers in the riding ranks.
During the suspension of racing, four expatriate jockeys namely Michael Rodd, Daniel Moor, Alysha Collett and Patrick Moloney returned to Australia where racing went on uninterrupted, but except for Moor who has relinquished his licence, their comeback is now a question mark with international travel not taking flight again anytime soon.
“I understand we will have a lot of races at those first two meetings in July. Everybody will be flat out,” he said.
“No doubt it’s great when you get the pick of the rides, but it’d be nice to have that competition as I can’t ride them all.”
With his commanding lead of 13 winners (29 versus Ruan Maia’s 16) on the log and fewer meetings (calendar for the remaining season 2020 yet to be released) to hang in there, Duric is odds-on to defend his tile for a fourth consecutive time, but during the lowest point of the isolation period, that was the furthest thing on his mind.
“I’d be lying if I said I was not tempted to also go back home to ride, especially when we had no idea what the future held for us here,” he said.
“But my two eldest daughters are finishing school here this year, and I thought it’d be better I bite the bullet and stick around.
“In hindsight, it was the best decision I’ve made. We cop a financial hit for sure, but as JP (John Powell) and I are the more established riders here, we can take it whereas it’s not so obvious for those who just got here.
“Of course, it’s fortunate we will be racing again, otherwise I’m not sure how long I could have sustained. A big thank you to the Singapore Turf Club for working hard with the ministries to bring racing back.”