Firdhaus laps up his quick holiday

The cheekiness was unmistakably still there.

New Zealand-based apprentice jockey Firdhaus Rafi is back in Singapore for a three-week break that was granted by his Riccarton master Andrew Carston.

The twinkle in those smiling eyes was as warm as ever as he greeted old familiar faces at the barrier trials on Thursday, be it jockeys, trainers or syces.

Mention the 11th January 2017 on a wet and damp day at ‘ulu’ (Malay for the boondocks) racecourse Hokitika, and he breaks into a hearty guffaw that is a mixture of self-deprecation and embarrassment.

Firdhaus Rafi looking relaxed at Kranji on Thursday, picture Singapore Turf Club

“I became a YouTube sensation overnight… all for the wrong reasons!” said the happy camper who turned 31 last Saturday.

Firdhaus certainly drew unwanted attention in the Land of the Long White Cloud, and even worldwide, when he whooped it up one lap early aboard Locally Sauced in a 2180m race he obviously misjudged as a speed dash.

The Singaporean lad was handed a five-week ban for his gross mistake. While he wished the ground had swallowed him up, he actually turned the blunder into a positive.

“Everything happens for a reason. After I served my five weeks, I came back and finished first, second and third, and the next week, I had winner after winner,” said Firdhaus who recorded his first New Zealand win aboard the Danny Crozier-trained Radiant on December 16 last year.

“My trainer Mr Carston was actually not angry. He told me everybody makes mistakes and he bore no grudges against me.

“It was a bittersweet day as I had two winners on that day. That incident has actually made me bounce back a stronger rider.”

Steven Burridge’s former apprentice jockey, who rides on the South Island circuit, has certainly gone a long way in redeeming himself with the tight-knit New Zealand racing fraternity by adding 14 winners to bring his tally to 19 winners.

“I never rode that horse again, but the trainer Grant Shaw did put me back on one of his horses and promised he would give me a good ride one day,” said Firdhaus who arrived in Singapore on August 31 and returns to New Zealand on September 19.

“I even won a Cup race, the Wyndham Cup on Patrick Erin (April 1) for trainers Brian and Shane Anderton.

“I think I personally have really improved a lot as a rider since I’ve been in New Zealand. I never had any problem adapting to the country as I really feel at home there and they really take good care of me.

“I also have former jockeys like Willy Harnett and David Walsh to help improve my technique but one person I really appreciated was Kim Clapperton (former darling of Bukit Timah) who is in the North Island and actually flew down to teach me a few things.

“For example, my knees are always apart as I want to ride like Joao Moreira, but she pulled me off and showed me how my balance was off when I stood like this in the irons.

”She instead showed me to close my knees and taught me how to push the horse in rhythm instead of overriding. I managed to ride my last winner using that and I can’t wait to go back and apply those things further.

“I also speak regularly with the Singapore Turf Club riding master Damien Kinninmont and also my old boss, Mr Burridge.”

Firdhaus said he was enjoying the time off to just relax and catch up with family and friends.

“I could have ridden trackwork if I wanted, but I was told it was better not to as it would be bad if I hurt myself,” he said.

“It’s just good to be back and enjoy the break.”