If his 150th career winner three weeks ago was a milestone for jockey Shafiq Rizuan, win No. 153 was even more momentous.
The Malaysian rider, an apprentice until last month when he reached a century and a half of wins, scored the biggest breakthrough of his career yesterday when he steered Cooptado to a sensational victory in the Longines Singapore Gold Cup.
The five-year-old Argentine-bred gelding overcame a poor start to outlast the 16-horse field and claim the $1.35 million Group 1 race at the Singapore Turf Club.
A late-charging Fastnet Dragon (Alan Munro) was unable to overhaul the breakaway leader down the home straight of the 2,200m race and finished a head back in second. Perfect P (Barend Vorster) was a further 23/4 lengths adrift in third.
LONGINES SINGAPORE GOLD CUP 2015
1 Cooptado (win: $51, place: $17)
2 Fastnet Dragon ($8; head)
3 Perfect P ($19; 23/4 lengths)
It was the third straight narrow defeat suffered by Munro aboard Fastnet Dragon and the constant shaking of his head as he discussed the result with trainer Leslie Khoo spoke volumes of the English hoop's frustrations.
There was only jubilation though for Shafiq, who grew up riding ponies bareback in Kelantan and rose through the ranks after beginning his career as a syce.
He said: "This is a dream come true for me. To win my first Group 1 race, at one of the biggest races in Singapore, is unbelievable."
It was a popular victory for the 2011 champion apprentice, who is also leading this year's championship over compatriot A'Isisuhairi Kasim, as Mark Walker was one of several trainers to embrace Shafiq after he returned to the scales at the Kranji Racecourse.
Said the 28-year-old, who cited his six-month suspension last year as one of the darkest moments of his career: "I wouldn't be here without the support of my family and the trainers here who never lost faith in me. This win is also for them."
Cooptado's triumph, his first from seven starts since arriving in the Republic from Dubai earlier this year to join trainer Patrick Shaw's stable, also halted the bid by Stepitup to become the first horse to win the Triple Crown Series.
The Australian-bred gelding had won the first two legs last month, the Kranji Mile and Raffles Cup, and needed to win the Gold Cup to complete a historic hat-trick.
Instead, he finished ninth and more than 10 lengths behind the winner while defending champion Quechua - one of four runners for Shaw alongside Cooptado, Perfect P and Emperor's Banquet (sixth) - was fifth.
Said the South African trainer, who now has three Gold Cups (2006, 2014, 2015) to go alongside his two Singapore Derby titles (2006, 2015): "He was the best stayer of the four. It took him a while to adjust and acclimatise to the weather and things here but he's shown what a classy horse he is.
"We knew he had the ability."
Shaw also reserved special praise for Cooptado's rider: "It was a fantastic ride from Shafiq. He's proven today that he belongs at this level and has the talent to compete with the other top jockeys here."
A slow start from Barrier 3 appeared to have ruined Cooptado's chances as he was pushed three wide from the fence and near the rear of the chasing pack as early leader Order of the Sun set the pace.
But Shafiq bided his time, manoeuvring his mount through the traffic in front of him before slamming hard on the accelerator over the final furlong.
He said: "It was a bad jump but I knew it was a long race and he was travelling so well after that. The last 100m I knew he wasn't going to be beaten.
"This is the best day of my life. I'm never going to forget this moment."