He is Kranji's star rookie

Simon Kok is leading by 10 winners from Shafrizal Saleh in the Singapore apprentice jockey's table.
Simon Kok is leading by 10 winners from Shafrizal Saleh in the Singapore apprentice jockey's table. TNP FILE PHOTO

Riding on the crest of a wave, Kok is poised to win the champion apprentice jockey title

At the rate he is going and barring unforeseen circumstances, Simon Kok Wei Hoong is destined to be crowned this season's Singapore champion apprentice jockey.

Just last Sunday, the Ipoh-born 23-year-old rode his first winning treble. Two weeks earlier, he captured his first feature race, aboard Star Emperor in the Group 3 Jumbo Jet Trophy over 1,400m.

What matters most is he is in hot demand and is getting the strong support of many owners and trainers, such as Steven Burridge, Stephen Gray, reigning Singapore champion Lee Freedman, Cliff Brown and local trainers like Alwin Tan and KY Young.

Riding on the crest of a wave, Kok has amassed 22 winners this year as of last night, 10 clear of the next apprentice jockey, Shafrizal Saleh.

There may still be three more months left in the current season, but, barring suspensions or injuries, Kok is the raging favourite to take over the mantle from last year's champion, Troy See.

His task has been rendered easier with the graduation to jockey status of two-time champion apprentice jockey Wong Chin Chuen in July when he was still on top.

To get where he is isn't pure luck but the hard work and ability in the saddle, considering the 3½ months headstart he gave to his rivals. He returned from his three-month stint in Tasmania only in April, not to mention a further delay due to an ankle injury suffered there.

To the Malaysian, it was sheer hunger that drove him to reach his goal - and even exceed it.

Kok always believed bridging the gap was not mission impossible, but neither did he think he would be sitting on top of the heap so early.

"I was already late, and I was really disappointed when I broke my ankle and was out for six weeks. But I never thought I could catch up that quick," said Kok, who made his Kranji bow only last year and has ridden a total of 42 winners, including four in Tasmania.

"I thought it would take a longer time, but it happened sooner than I thought. Since I started the season late, I was even hungrier," he said.

"At my first year, I was still green, and didn't have much experience. Mr Steven Burridge was my very first supporter, but I'm lucky enough to have good support from other trainers as well this year.

"I ride a lot for my boss, Stephen Gray, Lee Freedman, Cliff Brown, and, among the locals, Alwin Tan, KY Young support me, too."

His first hat-trick of wins with My Horse, Dazzle Gold and Hugo last Sunday has certainly gone a long way in giving the equestrian-trained lad a healthy buffer.

But Kok is anything but "cocky" or complacent about it.

"Last Sunday, I won my first hat-trick, it was a big thrill," he said. "Things are going well, I'm leading (by 10 wins), but I have to focus on the next three months. Anything can happen."

Kok said Shafrizal is a good rider who gets good support from trainer Michael Clements.

He also pointed to Abdul Syahir and Iskandar Rosman, saying both "can also ride and they get good rides, too."

"But I want to win the champion apprentice jockey title, and I'll do what I can to stay on top."

Kok is aware that life as a jockey is not always a bed of roses, especially come the day he loses his 3kg claim. But, for now, the ambitious young rider is like a sponge absorbing as much as he can.

He attributes his current success to having had a good basic foundation - he started out as a showjumper - and having always strived to gain more skills and knowledge.

"In Tasmania, my coach Mr Stephen Maskiell gave me a lot of advice after a race and how to improve, and thanks to him, I'm a stronger and better rider," he said.

"I didn't just learn about riding and the different tracks, but we also learned to talk to trainers and the social side of racing.

"Mr Matthew Pumpa teaches me a lot here, helping not just me, but all the apprentice jockeys.

"I also work a lot on my fitness level. I can't run after my ankle injury, but I do a lot of exercise at home - a lot of swimming and yoga.

"I also watch many racing videos, not just the local races when doing my form, but also from UK, Australia and New Zealand, just so I can learn from as many riding styles as possible."

Hard work and self-belief have certainly taken Kok a long way. The champion rookie title will be a deserving one for the likeable rider.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2019, with the headline 'He is Kranji's star rookie'. Print Edition | Subscribe