Simon Kok Wei Hoong has loved horse riding since he was 10 but it’s taken him another 10 years to decide which way he wanted to go, and on Tuesday night the newly-licensed apprentice jockey stood tall at Kranji as he weighed in a winner at his first night of race-riding.
The Ipoh-born Kok got bitten by the horse bug when he watched his maternal uncle jockey Leong Kar Wah on TV. It wasn’t long before he was on a horseback himself and next thing he knew he went on to ride on the equestrian circuit for 10 years.
But if he wanted to follow into his uncle’s footsteps, he knew jumps and eventing would have to be cast aside one day.
Apprentice jockey Simon Kok Wei Hoong off to his first win aboard Autumn Rush.
Ditching oxers and piaffes, at 20 years of age, Kok joined Kuala Lumpur racehorse trainer Frank Maynard for one year before moving down South to Singapore to Kranji trainer Stephen Gray for another year. He then transferred his indentures two blocks away to Steven Burridge late last year, and that day he had long been waiting for finally arrived last week – he got his apprentice jockey’s licence.
One week later, his new boss entrusted him with no fewer than four rides at the inaugural Tuesday night meeting – reduced to three after Pure Spark was scratched. Such was the faith the Australian handler had in his new rookie that he backed his judgement by giving him such a healthy book of rides, including Autumn Rush, a leading chance in the $80,000 Class 3 Division 2 race over 1100m.
After an unplaced baptism of fire aboard longshot Keep The Justice where he was always at the rear (finished last), Kok did not let his best chance slip through his hands at his next assignment.
Punching Autumn Rush ($30) straight to the lead from barrier No 1, Kok exhibited great poise in the saddle despite being rather lanky for a jockey, allowing his mount to amble out comfortably and even giving him a breather midrace before letting him loose into the straight.
When the Keano five-year-old suddenly opened up to a three-length lead, it became increasingly clear the 22-year-old rider was only a few metres away from making a dream start to his fledgling riding career.
Riding hands and heels mostly, Kok did give a couple of slaps to his mount just to keep his mind on the job as he started to drift out ever so slightly, but the 50.5kgs courtesy of his four-kilo claim must have also been of great assistance as the gelding kept widening the gap to eventually cross the line by more than five lengths from Unconquered (Noh Senari) with Northern Sun (Wong Chin Chuen) third another 1 ¼ lengths away.
The winning time was 1min 5.38secs for the 1100m on the Polytrack.
“I’ve always wanted to become a jockey from the time I saw my uncle ride as a kid, but I joined the Ipoh riding club first to do equestrian riding, mainly dressage and showjumping,” said the former national Malaysian equestrian rider.
“I’d like to thank Frank Maynard, Stephen Gray and my current boss Mr Burridge for their guidance and advice but also the Perak Turf Club for giving me the motivation to become a jockey.
“Having been an equestrian rider has definitely helped me as a jockey. I’ve learned the basics there and it’s helped me with my balance now.
“But when I turned 20, I knew I had to decide between showjumping and racing as I’d be too old to become a jockey after that age. I think I’ve made the right decision.
“I’ve been in Singapore for close to 1 ½ years and it’s my home now. I don’t miss home much, but I’m very happy my mum and dad came from Ipoh to see me ride tonight – I actually told them I had a good chance in race No 7!
“I’d also like to thank the Singapore Turf Club for giving me a licence. It’s a great opportunity to be riding here against very good jockeys who also give me a lot of help and advice, like Glen Boss, Michael Rodd, Vlad Duric and (ex-jockey) Danny Beasley.
“I know I still have a lot more to learn and I will just have to continue working hard.”
Kok said the instructions on Autumn Rush were to either lead or sit second – and not to forget to make full use of his four-kilo allowance.
“The horse had an advantage with the four-kilo claim. He was in a good spot and in the straight, he just went home,” said the soft-spoken young man.
“Thank you to Mr Burridge and the owner for putting me on this horse.”
Burridge was for one rather thankful he had found himself a handy four-kilo claimer in his yard.
“Simon has been with us for three months and hasn’t put a foot wrong since,” said the Australian trainer who was extending his current lead on the log by two winners on John O’Hara (seven versus five).
“He can make the grade as a rider. It’s great his mum and dad came down from Ipoh to see him win; what’s more not many ride a winner on their first day.
“It’s also great for the owner (EZ Stable). We didn’t know if he would lead, I just told Simon if they go silly to just take a sit.
“He had no weight on his back, Simon let him stride along and they went all the way.”
The 2010 Singapore champion trainer was obviously chuffed with his flying start but knew only too well not to get too complacent with 10 months and a bit still left to go.
“Things are going well, I can’t complain. When the waves are up, you catch them and you just go with the flow,” was his simple summing up of the current good vibes.