After finishing fourth on 16 winners at his very first year of riding in 2018, Steven Burridge’s Malaysian apprentice jockey was picked by the Singapore Turf Club to spend three months in Tasmania to gain further riding experience.
The 23-year-old reached the Australian island-state in mid-December. He was placed on loan to the training partnership of Leon, Dean & Trent Wells.
Kok had his first ride at Launceston on December 19, but did not find the line in 22 rides until Geegees Rock Opera finally opened his account in a Maiden race over 1350m at Devonport on Wednesday.
Trained by Team Wells, Geegees Rock Opera went all the way to defeat his better-fancied stablemate Gee Gees Bulldog (Craig Newitt) for a stable queue-up.
“It feels good to get my first win in Tasmania, and it’s especially thrilling it happened on a big day,” said Kok.
“The crowd was huge. They stand on the infield area, surround the winning post, I’ve never seen anything like this before.
“Geegees Rock Opera is actually a horse I rode at my first day. The instructions were to go forward, there was some crazy pressure on the outside, but we eventually got an easy lead.
“We had some luck as the stablemate and favourite Gee Gees Bulldog didn’t have the clearest of runs and came home too late.
“I also dead-heated for third in the Cup on a horse called Settler’s Stone. He was an outsider and it was a pleasant surprise to finish in the money in the big race.”
It was Newitt, an old Kranji acquaintance who lifted the Devonport Cup (1880m) aboard Eastender.
Kok said there was not much time for post-celebration after his first Tassie win as he still had a long journey back to his stable in Brighton, Hobart, 280km away.
“It’s a three-hour drive back to Hobart. Leon is the father and has his stables there while his sons Dean and Trent train from Devonport (Spreyton),” said Kok.
“I stay at both stables, depending where I get my rides. In this case, it was Dean and Trent who trained Geegees Rock Opera.
“Besides the rides they support me with, the Wells have helped me with a lot of advice. Stephen Maskiell is the riding master and holds workshops twice a month, he also calls me after each meeting to go through my rides.
“There are four tracks here, Elwick in Hobart, Launceston, Devonport and Longford where they race once a year on New Year’s Day and I’ve ridden at all four.
“They are all different and you need to use different techniques at each. Devonport where I just rode has a 350m home straight and is shaped like Kranji.
“Launceston is the more technical track as its straight is only 250m long. That’s probably why it’s taken me a while to get my first winner as you need time to study the tracks better.
“Before I left Singapore, (apprentice jockey) Amirul (Ismadi) who also spent a few months here in Tasmania last year gave me some advice on the tracks, how they work the horses, the system and how things are run differently.
Due to return to Singapore in mid-March, Kok said he had not lost sight of the racing action at home.
“My favourite horse Autumn Rush (three of his 16 wins last year) ran very well last Sunday with Noh Senari,” he said.
“I keep an eye on what’s happening back home. I’ll be back soon, anyway.
“Now that I’ve got my first winner out of the way, I hope to ride a few more.”