Kok Eager for another win - and next year

Trainer David Kok is often caught in a Catch-22 situation with his behemoth of a galloper Olympian Eager, but the Singaporean has still done a good job to come away with two wins from as many starts.

Tipping the scales at a whopping 630 kilos, the hulking I Am Invincible entire was still a maiden when he landed in Singapore from Sydney where he went around as Ideal Express for Kembla Grange trainer Paul Murray, boasting a record of seven placings in 16 starts.

Olympian Eager, who races for 2015 Horse of the Year Stepitup’s Thomas Loke of Tivic Stable, has wasted no time in getting on the board at Kranji, securing two wins, first at Initiation level last year in November at his debut, then at Class 4 level almost a year later, both over the 1000m speed dash on Polytrack.

The reason for the long gap between runs was a knee chip operation detected shortly after his maiden win, and just constant management issues.

Kok explained that Olympian Eager’s imposing constitution is not a drawback in itself as far as manoeuvring his way around the Kranji Racecourse is concerned, but it can be an Achilles heel – quite literally.

“He’s one of the biggest horses at Kranji. The problem with him is you must find the right balance with him,” said Kok.

“When he’s at his fittest, his legs are very thin, but because of his weight, it puts pressure on his hooves and heels, which become sore.

“Right now, he has come on since his last win, but you just have to manage him with extra care.”

Olympian Eager was ridden by Vlad Duric at that second win on October 20, but Kok credited the entire’s well-being today to another rider, Glen Boss, his partner at his debut win.

“After Boss won on him, he worked him one day and jumped off saying something was amiss with the horse,” said Kok.

“The horse looked all right to me. I even trotted him up and he was fine, I couldn’t find anything wrong.

“But Boss was adamant we shouldn’t gallop him and he should be checked. We had him x-rayed and true enough, he had a knee chip!

“Boss is a very good judge and if the horse has come right today, it’s thanks to him.”

Sidelined after the successful surgery, Olympian Eager rewarded his trainer’s and owner’s patience with a resounding first-up win, which he will now try and replicate next Sunday week in a Benchmark 67 race over 1000m again.

Kok could not have been happier with his last hit-out ahead of that third Kranji assignment.

Jumping from the inside alley in a barrier trial on Thursday, Olympian Eager bowled along in his big strides at the head of affairs for Duric before eventually running a nose-second to Conilad (track rider Simon Kok), never coming out of second gear.

“That was a nice trial. Considering he’s a tough horse to manage, I was happy with the way he went around, he seems to have maintained his form,” said Kok.

“Vlad will again ride him at his next race.”

The current leading jockey, who is hanging on to his eight-win lead from defending champion jockey Manoel Nunes (78 vs 70), holds in Olympian Eager a good ride to preserve or enhance his advantage. There are six meetings left, but with Nunes suspended for two meetings, the title looks all set to be Duric’s, the first ever for the Caulfield Cup-winning jockey in his riding career.

“It was a nice easy trial. I didn’t touch him at all, he just did everything by himself and took everything in his stride,” said Duric.

“It’s taken a while to get over his niggling issues, but he’s certainly a horse with a lot of ability.”

Kok, who seems to have struck a rich vein of form with Duric – with the last three of his 10 winners all ridden by the Australian jockey, namely Fuego, Pioneer Step and Olympian Eager, has not had it easy in 2017. A regular mid-table finisher (he finished 14th on 23 winners last season), Kok sits in 23rd spot on a paltry score of 10 winners this year.

His season actually got off to a flier, though, courtesy of a training double on the first day itself, January 1, via Major Advancement and Racing Talent, but winners have been few and far between since.

“I thought I would have a good year with two winners on New Year’s day, but it’s been a terrible year, my worst season since I began,” said Kok who got his trainer’s licence in 2009.

“A lot of my horses suddenly had fever and other problems. Moving to a temporary stable while mine underwent renovation did not help; the horses were affected.

“It’s been a tough year, and I lost a few owners along the way, but things have picked up surely but slowly.

“Next year should be a better year. I have about 10 new horses, both unraced and tried, and I have a lot of hope in them.

“Two of them trialled this morning, Yulong Xiongyin, an Irish colt for the Yu Long Stable, and All My Eye, a Japanese-bred five-year-old.

“Yulong Xiongyin ran second in his barrier trial and seems to be a nice sprinter. It’s the Yu Long’s first horse with me and I thank them for the support.

“They have not won a race yet, and I hope I can give them their first win in Singapore with this horse.”

By Footstepsinthesand, the three-year-old was prepared by Irish trainer Mick Halford for the Chinese outfit. From two starts, both over Dundalk’s Polytrack, Yulong Xiongyin scored on debut in a seven-furlong race before running second at his second start over five furlongs.