Sunday comeback for Iskandar as Malaysians trickle back in

Lost somewhere in Johor Bahru for quite some time, Malaysian apprentice jockey Iskandar Rosman has finally resurfaced on a Singapore racecard.

Iskandar Rosman and Lee Freedman in a file photo here (before COVID-19)
Iskandar Rosman and Lee Freedman in a file photo here (before COVID-19) Picture: Singapore Turf Club

Stranded in the neighbouring Malaysian state with fellow Malaysian jockeys Wong Chin Chuen and Mohd Zaki after the Causeway between the two countries was closed because of the COVID-19 lockdown, Iskandar, better known as Syafiq, had his name printed next to River Ruby and Dontlookdownonme as their rider on the 14-race programme at Kranji this Sunday.

The 25-year-old had tried several times through his boss Lee Freedman to return to Singapore – both before and after the resumption of racing on July 11, but to no avail.

Only Benny Woodworth, who, in the last couple of years, has also been commuting between Kranji and Johor Bahru (JB) for work, was able to come back in early July thanks to his Singapore Permanent Resident status.

But with the recent easing of certain restrictions of the Circuit Breaker, Freedman's latest attempt finally received the nod of approval from the Ministry of Manpower. Iskandar could pack his saddle and make his way back to Singapore.

Leaving his wife Aina and one-year-old son Noah behind, he arrived on July 14 and after serving two weeks of quarantine at Orchard Hotel and passing the mandatory COVID-19 test, he was able to jump back on a horse on Wednesday.

The sense of joy and relief of getting his livelihood back was palpable from the winner of 15 races.

"I'm so happy to be back. It was a very long time not riding – almost five months," said Iskandar who was actually serving two careless riding suspensions (Sun Ace and Touch The Clouds) back-to-back, amounting to close to six weeks (March 8 to April 17) before Singapore racing was suspended on April 7.

"I went back to JB because I was suspended then. Then racing stopped, and since I couldn't work, I had to go back to my wife and my little boy.

"I missed riding so much. I would watch the race replays on the website and wish I were there.

"The clerk at the stables (Freedman) applied four or five times to bring me back, but still cannot. Boss didn't have enough riders, especially lightweight, and wanted me to come back as soon as possible.

"I was very frustrated, especially when racing started. Luckily, my wife just opened a shop selling cookies. It's a family business and I was busy helping her, which was good.

"But when the boss told me I finally got the permission to go back, I had to leave my family even if I know I will miss them so much.

"My wife said never mind, she supported me. My son was born premature and needs regular medical check-ups, but I have many family members who can help us even if I'm not around.

"I entered Singapore because I missed riding, the horses, the races. I just didn't want to waste my time any longer because my licence is only for one year."

Iskandar said he didn't blow too much after his first day back riding trackwork on Wednesday, but nothing beats the fitness that comes with race-riding.

"As you know, I broke my leg before, so I can't jog, but I've actually been doing a lot of cycling and gym during the lockdown," said Iskandar who scored his first win on one of his master's horses, Tesoro Privado, at his 37th ride on August 10, 2018.

"My boss gave me seven horses to ride at my first day yesterday. I was not too tired, I was okay, the exercises helped.

"I've got two rides for ZL (Zhan Lun) Mok (River Ruby) and David Kok (Dontlookdownonme) this Sunday. They were among the trainers who said they would also support me when I came back.

"It's a nice way to get back into racing, then hopefully, things will pick up from there."

Iskandar missed the last four months of last season due to a fractured ankle sustained in a race fall from I Am Invisible in August. After making his riding comeback in January this year, he currently has two winners (My Dreamliner and Wild Bee) on the board, sitting in eighth spot with reigning champion Simon Kok Wei Hoong again a runaway leader on 17 winners.

In further good news, former two-time Singapore champion apprentice jockey Wong and Zaki will soon follow into Iskandar's footsteps, bringing a happy ending to the much drawn-out "Saving Private Ryan" recovery operation of four stranded jockeys in Johor Bahru.

Unlike Iskandar, who is an apprentice jockey and had his work permit approved through his employer, Freedman, Wong and Zaki are freelance senior jockeys who had to apply under the Singapore Turf Club (STC) as the sponsoring company.

After several unsuccessful attempts, the two Malaysians were recently given the green light and will be able to return to Singapore between August 3 and 5. Once they clear quarantine and return negative to the COVID-19 test, they will be able to slip into their riding boots again and help give trainers a few more options in dealing with the current dearth of jockeys at Kranji.

While Malaysians are allowed back in under strict protocols, it's still a no-entry sign from elsewhere around the world. Three Australian jockeys, Michael Rodd, Daniel Moor, Patrick Moloney and one New Zealand jockey, Alysha Collett, who left Singapore to resume their riding careers in Australia in April, have relinquished their STC licences.

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