Vorster makes shock move to Adelaide

After 15 years in Singapore, Barend Vorster, one of the longest-serving expat jockeys at Kranji, has taken all and sundry by surprise with his sudden decision to pull up stumps and move to Australia to continue his riding career.

barend vorster at his biggest triumph in singapore ato in the 2012 group 1 krisflyer international
Barend Vorster at his biggest triumph in Singapore - Ato in the 2012 Group 1 KrisFlyer International. Picture: Singapore Turf Club

The bombshell was first dropped by the Australian racing media on Tuesday with leading Adelaide trainer Tony McEvoy announcing that he had hired the South African as his new stable jockey.

Vorster confirmed the Adelaide move, saying that things have moved quite fast since the talks began. He was now just waiting for the employment permit paperwork to come through before he and his family, wife Nikki and son Brendan can fly to their new home in Angaston, South Australia where he will be based.

The 42-year-old jockey said he had been mulling over a change of scenery for a while. The doors to those new horizons were flung wide open when McEvoy offered him the job (after he applied through a job ad) last November, but it was still not an easy decision to make.

Vorster was among six foreign jockeys who was granted a one-year licence renewal by the Singapore Turf Club in 2019. Others got six months and some were not extended.

“It was a hard but quick decision. It was necessary for the future,” he said.

“In life, there will always be the next decision, the next step. Timing will never be a good timing, but in this case, I think it’s a good time to go.

“After riding in Singapore for so long, South Africa was not an option, and I felt I had to stay abroad. The decision was more based on family, and going forward, for my own career.

“Brendan is now 11, and we feel it’s the right age to make new adjustments in life. Mentally, he can handle and adjust to a new lifestyle and new school system better.”

Before him, a number of South African jockeys like Brisbane champion Jeff Lloyd, Robbie Fradd, Glyn Schofield and lately Keagan Latham have found the grass greener in Australia, but Vorster said he was not really jumping onto the bandwagon.

He was steered into that direction through a friend - and things just fell into place after that.

“It was through social media that I found out about Tony looking for a jockey. A friend of mine, Chris Taylor, a South African jockey in Australia, forwarded the advert that was posted on Racing.com,” said Vorster who has been to the land Down Under as a tourist but never to ride.

“I sent a message to Tony’s stables, and almost immediately, his secretary rang me to say they were very interested, but then I heard nothing from them for four weeks.

“I thought that was the end of it, but it turned out they have actually been talking to Australians who knew me, like (ex-Kranji trainer) Don Baertschiger and Mick Dittman (Lim’s Stable racing manager).

“These people were key guys and they gave good inputs on me, which goes to show how important it has been to associate myself with such persons over the years.”

Vorster, who was crowned Singapore champion jockey at his first full season in 2004, is grateful to not only those referees met during his Singapore days, but also the whole experience, be it in good and bad years.

“Whatever I have achieved up to now, it’s through the Singapore Turf Club. None of this would have been possible if not for them,” he said.

“I initially came here for only three months, and ended up staying for 15 years. I can’t thank the Club enough for the amazing opportunity they have given me in the last 15 years, not forgetting they have renewed me for another year.

“I got the exposure in making connections, both with the local racing fraternity here and internationally.

“I had good support from trainers, initially from Mike Clements and then Patrick Shaw who have been big influences on my career. Through Pat, I rode Rocket Man in Hong Kong and I also rode in Dubai for that exposure which has certainly helped put me in good stead for this job with Tony today.

“Pat and later, Ricky (Le Grange) have been my biggest supporters and they are the ones behind my longevity here, not to mention owners like Fred Crabbia, the Yongs, both Mark and Emily, but also Mr Yong Nam Seng and Mr Yong Me Him from the Gold Stable, who were more like family friends.

“I’ll be sad to leave Singapore as I’ve made many friends here, but I may still come back for a Cup ride one day as I’m still a Permanent Resident. Riding in Singapore has also enhanced my riding a great deal. I’ve been able to ride against some of the best jockeys in the world.

“I won’t forget the really good horses I was privileged to ride, and here two or three stand out, Rocket Man, obviously, Ato, Why Be, and recently, Bold Thruster among the new acquisitions.

“But it’s also been about the bread and butter horses. Without them, I would have not been able to hit close to 800 winners.”

The current score stands at 781 winners, 22 of which were recorded at Group level, including four Group 1s, with the highest accolade being undoubtedly the now-defunct Group 1 KrisFlyer International Sprint with Ato in 2012, closely followed by two Group 1 Lion City Cups with Why Be (2007) and Rocket Man (2011). He also won the Group 1 Patron’s Bowl aboard Ato in 2012.

In South Africa, Vorster was just as prolific in the 10-odd years he forged his early riding career there before moving to Kranji – booting home around 750 winners, including five at Group 1 level.

After his title-winning season in 2004, Vorster remained a regular Top 5 finisher up until 2013. He then dropped off a little in subsequent years, finishing in 10th spot last year on 31 winners.

Given the sometimes lengthy visa procedures in Australia, the popular hoop can still pad up his current Kranji tally, much to the delight of his numerous local fans before they bid him a warm farewell.

“I’ll still be riding here until my employment permit is approved. It may take a few more weeks, probably up till February,” said Vorster.

“Even when I get there, I will be given a temporary visa until I get the final one. Hopefully, I’ll be able to ride in races with the temporary visa.

“Tony has assigned me as stable jockey in Adelaide. He also has a stable in Melbourne where Luke Currie is his stable jockey.

“I actually flew to his stables shortly after season ended here. I spent a couple of days there, having a look around at his training centre in Angaston in the Barossa Valley, and I really liked what I saw.

“It’s a nice lifestyle, where it’ll be a bit like Singapore where you ride twice a week on average. I’ll be based in the city, but he may ask me to travel out to the country at times, it’s all up to him.

“I never met Tony before, but he seems to be a great guy and I’m sure we will get along well. I can’t thank him enough for sponsoring me for that position.

“I’m now 42, I think I have another 10 years of riding, all going well. It’s the right time to turn to the next chapter of my life.”

Singapore Turf Club