Bang-in-form Chavez riding like there is no tomorrow

Panamanian-born jockey Oscar Chavez booted home back-to-back riding trebles on Friday night, but the mood was a little more subdued this time.

After the naturalised Singaporean won with Shaqraa, Sugartime Jazz and Saraab on September 29, he had not won a race again until he conjured up a similar haul with Za’eem, Raheeb and Carnelian.

Such prolific scores may, however, not occur again for the 43-year-old jockey, who is married to a local, Rashillah with three boys, Hamid, Adam and Nabiel, and has been a regular fixture in Singapore and Malaysia since landing in 1994 as a 20-year-old Latino jockey speaking very little English.

Za'eem (Oscar Chavez) quickens away to knock in his first win at Kranji, picture Singapore Turf Club

Chavez’s jockey’s licence was not renewed for another term – Friday’s meeting was his fourth-last before the 2017 season wraps up on December 3.

“Every single winner I ride means a lot to me, whether it’s a Class 5 or a Group winner,” said an emotional Chavez whose highest acclaim remains the Singapore Derby with Noble Spirits for Mohd Yusof at his very first season of riding at Bukit Timah in 1994.

“After 23 years, I will look back and remember all those great years. I’m filled with sadness but I know I will still carry on riding, this is my whole life.”

Chavez would not elaborate further about his future plans, preferring to focus on his wonderful night, which was taking his Singapore tally to 524 winners, and look forward to riding the next one, and then some.

Just like the first treble on September 29, two of them were recorded for his staunchest supporter in recent times, Mansoor Gandhi of the Al-Arabiya Stable. As their Arabian-inspired names suggest, Shaqraa, Saraab, Za’eem and Raheeb are the ones who race in the now familiar navy blue and white silks of the oil and gas businessman.

Za’eem ($8) was victorious in the $35,000 Open Maiden race over 1600m before Raheeb ($8) in the $75,000 Restricted Maiden race over 1200m scored expected wins for Chavez, but $72 longshot Carnelian came as a bit of a surprise in the $35,000 Class 5 race over 1600m.

Raheeb brings up win No 2 for Oscar Chavez in Race 4, picture Singapore Turf Club

Both Al-Arabiya horses were recording their maiden wins off last-start seconds with Za’eem, a four-year-old by Sakhee’s Secret, coming out for his second start for Ricardo Le Grange while Raheeb was at his third run for Saimee Jumaat. Chavez was the partner at all five runs bar Raheeb’s last-start second when Vlad Duric was aboard.

Chavez rides the bulk of Mansoor’s horses in their races, and while he sometimes gives up the rides to another jockey, he seldom watches them work as he would be the one on their backs every morning. The satisfaction of having played a major part in nurturing those youngsters and seeing them reap such early rewards was plain to see on his expression.

And the joy of combining for another win for another one of his unabashed fans, Carnelian’s handler Hideyuki Takaoka, widened the grin on his dial even more. They won many races together, with the Group 2 EW Barker Trophy (1400m) with Gold Rutile two years ago the standout.

“I know both Za’eem and Raheeb from back to front. I have been riding them from Day 1 and to see them win so early in their racing careers gives me great pleasure,” said Chavez.

“Za’eem was travelling like a winner from the 800m. I had so much in hand, and once I turned him loose, he gave a nice kick.

“He also loves this ground (wet). He is a bit of a one-pacer and the other horse (Keep Winning ) was catching up, but he still won well.

“Raheeb was just too good. I eased down on him after I looked at the TV screen, it was like a barrier trial for him.

“I’ve never ridden Carnelian before, but I did a lot of homework on her past runs, and I told Takaoka we should ride her more quiet instead of being up there with the pace.

“Takaoka told me to take her wide but I insisted that I would ride her along the fence and wait for the home turn. I followed Barend Vorster (Ace Harbour) throughout, and the moment he came out, I went around him for my move.

“Once she saw daylight, I knew she would be hard to beat.”

An Australian-bred mare by Street Sense, Carnelian, who had just the one win in 20 starts prior to Friday’s, cleared out for an emphatic 3 ¼-length win from Ace Harbour with Spirit Seven (Craig Grylls) third another length away. The winning time was 1min 40.26secs for the Polytrack mile.

Takaoka called Chavez a “world class champion” – not without a touch of cheek between the two friends - as he led in the Suzuka Racing Stable-owned mare, while the more intense words obviously came from Mansoor.

The Al-Arabiya Stable has invested enormously in racing in both Singapore and Malaysia in the last two years, and the man they have left with the last responsibility of steering their big team home has not let them down on Friday night, but with the uncertainty of Chavez’s future, Mansoor’s voice was tinged with disappointment at the winner’s circle.

“Oscar is a fantastic jockey. I’ve entrusted him with most of my horses from Day 1 and he’s been an amazing asset to us,” said Mansoor.

“Not only his horsemanship with difficult horses is second to none, but his feedback helps my trainers plan their horses’ programmes better.

“He rated my two horses very well. I think it helps when you have a jockey who knows the horses like the back of his hand, he knows how to ride them, and the results speak for themselves.

“Everybody plays an important part in a stable, and a stable jockey is definitely one of them, and we couldn’t have done it without Oscar.”

Mansoor said that Friday’s winning duo were not without natural ability either.

“Za’eem is one of my favourites. We bought him in New Zealand but he came here a bit late,” he said.

“I think we could have had fun with him earlier, but hey, he’s already won second-up, so that is still a great way to start his career here.

“Raheeb has a sentimental value to Saimee as he is a half-brother to Mexican Rose, a mare he rode to many great wins when he was a jockey.”

Carnelian (Oscar Chavez) bounces back to her best in Race 5, picture Singapore Turf Club

Saimee was indeed all smiles as the win brought echoes of one of the best mares to have raced for Laurie Laxon in the same Jupiter Stable colours as his other champion, Better Than Ever.

“This horse (Raheeb) has a bit of sentimental value for sure. It’s too early to tell if he will be as good as Mexican Rose, but he certainly looked strong tonight,” said the former eight-time Singapore champion jockey.

“Oscar knows him very well and it showed in the confident way he handled him. He knows what the horse can do.

“Oscar said he actually jumped well tonight. He was prepared to hunt him up but he landed in a good spot quite easily. It’s onwards and upwards from there.”

The Ocean Park three-year-old settled in the slipstream of Per Incharge (Hanafi Noorman) from the outset before going for broke at the top of the straight as the wayward son of Per Incanto drifted out under his young apprentice jockey’s whip.

Raheeb needed no second invitation as he charged through the boulevard to pull away like a good professional horse, but with Chavez dropping a gear or two inside the last 100m, Per Incharge came back to finish 1 ¾ lengths astern with Only Win (Olivier Placais) third another gap of 3 ¼ lengths away. The winning time was 1min 10.72secs for the 1200m on the Short Course.

Le Grange, who was at his second time saddling Za’eem (clocked 1min 37.53secs for the 1600m on the Short Course), also saluted Chavez’s inestimable role in the Al-Arabiya success.

“It was only his (Za’eem) second run and to be the topweight and give away weight and win was a great effort,” said the South African trainer.

“He’s also only a small horse and has to carry such a big lump of weight. He is an easy horse to train, but full credit must also go to Oscar.

“It was a good confident ride from Oscar.”