Former chef Syafiq Hazman’s bold decision to swap the griddle for the saddle has finally paid off when he whipped up his first winner on Sunday, Secret Liberty.
The culinary arts diploma holder used to work the stoves at Holiday Inn Hotel, but when an uncle suggested his small size could open the doors to a career as a jockey, Syafiq thought he would give it a shot even if it did not look like a recipe for instant success.
Knowing nothing about the world of horse racing (nobody from his family is interested), Syafiq had to start from scratch. He applied for a position as a trainee apprentice jockey with the Singapore Training Academy for Racing (STAR) and to his surprise, was admitted in 2011.
First indentured to trainer Leslie Khoo, Syafiq learned the ropes for four years before he was transferred to trainer Michael Freedman two months ago.
The Woodlands boy made his riding debut last year and being an old hand at dealing with the heat in a kitchen, the switch to the pressure-cooker environment at Kranji was not all that different. He coped well despite not riding any winners at his first 43 rides last year, but his long wait finally came to an end thanks to his only ride of the day on Sunday, Secret Liberty for his master in the $38,000 Kranji Stakes D Division 1 race over 1200m.
The race itself was a straightforward jump-and-run affair aboard the $21 shot from the inside alley. Well controlled by Syafiq, the four-year-old mare by Statue Of Liberty kept going all the way to score by two lengths from Zac Command (Manoel Nunes) with Good Loouken (Nooresh Juglall) third another two lengths away. The winning time was 1min 10.16secs for the 1200m on the Long Course.
“It’s a great feeling. I’ve left my job as a chef not knowing if I would make it as a jockey, but I’m glad I did,” said the 27-year-old.
“I have to thank Mr Khoo for guiding me in the first four years I was with him. He gave me the foundation and I’ll forever remember that.
“I also have to thank three jockeys who helped me a lot, Saifudin Ismail, Shahrul Nizam and Tengku Rehaizat.
“Unfortunately I didn’t ride a winner for Mr Khoo, but it was time to seek new pastures. I believe I will have a lot of opportunities with Mr Freedman.
“Mr Freedman spends a lot of time going through my rides as well. He’s helped me improve a lot.
“I’ve had one third before as my best performance, but this is what I’ve been working hard for. It’s taken me 48 rides but I hope it will open the door to better rides from now on.”