Apprentice H Syafiq lands his first win

Former chef Syafiq Hazman's bold decision to swap the griddle for the saddle finally paid off yesterday when he booted home his first winner, SECRET LIBERTY, in Race 8.

The culinary diploma holder used to work the stoves at Holiday Inn Hotel, but, when an uncle suggested his small size could open the door to a career as a jockey, Syafiq (above) thought he would give it a shot even if it was no 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 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 yesterday for his master in the $38,000 Kranji Stakes D Division 1 race over 1,200m.

The race itself was a straightforward jump-and-run affair aboard the $21 shot from the inside alley.

"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 Syafiq.

"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 see 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."