Even tougher year ahead? ‘Bring it on!’ says Duric

Vlad Duric

By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club

As much as that fourth consecutive Singapore champion jockey title was by his own admission the hardest to engineer, Vlad Duric is already champing at the bit for a five-peat next season.

“It’s been a tough battle with Ruan Maia, but to win four championships is something I’m really proud of – and I’m already looking forward to the five-in-a-row next year,” said Duric.

“No doubt, it’ll be my hardest year for me, more so when Ruan will have a bit of a headstart with the first two days I’ll miss through suspension (careless riding).

“I’m going to have to knuckle down to stay in touch, but I’ve got another one-year licence and I for sure will give it another go.”

Special Ops hands Vlad Duric his 65th and last win for 2020 on December 19.

The Australian jockey certainly had to work hard – and waste hard as could be seen on the heavyweight jockey’s drawn features all year, especially at the weigh-in – for that fourth gong, even if he led for most of the way.

The margin had long been comfortable, but he had been casting nervous glances in his rearview mirror inside the last three or four months of the just-concluded 2020 season.

Maia proved to be the pest who wouldn’t leave him alone, scything down the lead with his bumper hauls, headed by that seven-timer on August 23 as well as a raft of four-baggers and hat-tricks.

Duric’s couple of suspensions for careless riding and early exits for dehydration were other reasons that saw the lead chipped away.

But like a true champion on the ropes, Duric punched his way back with a couple of five-timers of his own, but the greater momentum still swung towards his younger Brazilian rival’s side (32 years old and 11 years the Victorian’s junior).

Two meetings away from the line, Duric must have felt he was safe with Maia still left with eight winners to make up, but another high-five at the penultimate meeting gave the two-time Macau champion jockey an unexpected lifeline.

The lead had been cut back to only four winners (Duric hit one back with Special Ops). The media went to town in hyping up the last meeting on Sunday as that epic showdown that would go down to the wire, but as is often the case, it didn’t quite reach the fever pitch we had all been hankering for.

Maia rode only one winner, Knight Love – and it decidedly proved too little too late. Duric didn’t ride any winner, and, mathematically after Race 7, he didn’t have to anymore, as he scraped home on 65 winners, by a gap of three winners, which must have felt like daylight to him.

To Duric, besides the closeness of the ding-dong battle with Maia, the other unique trait that set this title apart from the first three was the unprecedented backdrop on which it was crafted – COVID-19.

“Obviously, it’s been a difficult year for everybody with COVID-19, it’s been a stop-and-start season where at one stage, we didn’t even know if we would carry on,” he said.

“But the Singapore Turf Club and everybody in the industry have stuck it out and it’s been a wonderful team effort for all of us to come out on top.

“Personally, other than the fourth title, the other highlights were my four Group 1s out of seven (two each with Top Knight – Singapore Derby and Queen Elizabeth II Cup – and Inferno – Singapore Guineas and Lion City Cup).

“I’d like to thank all the trainers and owners who have supported me, especially Cliff Brown and Michael Clements who have been instrumental to my success towards the backend, and of course, Mark Walker and Ricardo Le Grange, who have both been big supporters of mine.”

Rides are the lifeblood of any jockey but having spent eight years (he had a first three-year stint from 2009 to 2011) in Singapore, Duric said the one main pillar that has kept him and the industry going through hell and high water was the Club.

“The Club has been going through difficult times, but it’s done a great job to ride them out,” he said.

“I for one am grateful they have given me another licence for next year. I’m looking forward to the new season ahead as I’m confident things will be more positive next year.”

Author: iRace