Former Hong Kong galloper Circuit Land seems to be a magnet for rising stars of the riding world not many Kranji racegoers have heard of before.
At his second Singapore start, connections went for a complete newbie to ride the US-bred seven-year-old by Mizzen Mast in the Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy (1600m) on April 27.
But Brazilian jockey Ruan Maia showed why he was Macau’s new poster boy with a 10-out-of-10 ride at his one and only Kranji cameo, going head-to-head with Singapore’s two kingpins, Infantry and Vlad Duric, and outslugging them on their home ground no less.
Circuit Land will reunite with French jockey Alexis Badel in the Kranji Mile, picture Singapore Turf Club
However, the 29-year-old could not hold down the job for Circuit Land’s much bigger target, next Saturday’s $1.5 million Invitational Group 1 Kranji Mile (1600m) due to a change of fixtures in Macau racing, but the revolving doors have quickly thrown up another young gun to fill his boots – Alexis Badel.
Okay, for those who are hooked on horse racing around the South China Sea, they might see a link. The 28-year-old may be French and based in Chantilly, but he has been “wintering” in Hong Kong of late.
Hong Kong owner Dey Ngo Tai Tak likes to pick and choose his own jockeys, preferably from a little further afield - with prior on-site work experience not a prerequisite. He thought of Badel who partnered Circuit Land three times for a second place in a Group 2 race at Happy Valley, rang him, found out he was free on May 26 - and voila, the Frenchman is the new hit-and-run man.
Just last November at Badel’s second Hong Kong tenure, a few simulcasts of Singapore races on TV piqued his interest, but never did it cross his mind he would be riding there a few months later.
“I’ve never really had the opportunity to follow Singapore racing, except for the time when I saw a few races from Hong Kong,” said Badel who has racing in his genes, being the son of a trainer (Myriam Bollack-Badel) and a former top jockey (Alain Badel).
“Singapore will be a new discovery for me – and a nice addition on my international resume. Hong Kong has actually been a good springboard for such overseas rides as just this month alone, I rode in England three times.
“When the owner rang me up a few weeks ago, I thought it was very nice of him to give me the ride. I know Circuit Land very well and I also watched his win in Singapore.”
A winner of around 600 races, including 21 at his two visits to Hong Kong’s Sha Tin and Happy Valley racecourses, Badel said he has not spoken to Circuit Land’s (previously handled by Danny Shum) new trainer Lee Freedman, and neither has he met him before, but he does know a close member of the famous Australian family.
“I’ve ridden for his younger brother Michael before, but unfortunately, I haven’t won any race for him,” said Badel, referring to the former Kranji-based handler who is at his first Hong Kong season.
“Michael is a super nice guy and I’m looking forward to riding for Lee next Saturday. I know they come from a famous racing family in Australia and it would be nice to ride a winner for them.”
Badel, who currently sits in 28th place on the French jockeys’ premiership on 15 winners from 159 rides, said he had already tried to size up his opposition in the Kranji Mile. He was glad he knew at least one of the other 13 runners, Horse Of Fortune from Hong Kong – but of course.
“I’ve ridden Horse Of Fortune before. We finished fourth in a Group 3 race (The Centenary Vase),” said Badel.
“Otherwise, I don’t know the rest, but I’ll watch their videos before I come over. I won’t ride Circuit Land in trackwork as I reach Singapore on Friday night, but I will try and ride a horse on Saturday morning, just for a recce of the track.”
Such consummate professionalism speaks volumes about Badel’s solid work ethic, even though he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He may be a Badel, but he had to work his way up - and still ended up among France’s finest coterie in horse racing.
Growing up in a racing stable, it wasn’t long before an eight-year-old Badel took his first steps in equestrian riding. By 10, he had already moved to faster racehorses in Lyon, but the raw diamond was only knocked into shape through the rigours of proper training six years later.
After one year at the famous French jockey’s academy, the Moulin-à-Vent, he was placed with legendary trainer Andre Fabre. The word soon spread around that Badel junior was a chip off the old block.
Accolades flowed in one after another. French champion apprentice jockey title in 2007, Top 10 finish in the senior riding ranks at only his second year riding with 60 winners, first Group win aboard Norse King for his mother in the 2013 Group 2 Prix du Conseil de Paris (2400m), quickly followed by another Group 2 win for Bollack-Badel in the Grand Prix de Deauville aboard Cocktail Queen the next year.
Badel’s meteoric rise did not go unnoticed. In 2015, the Aga Khan hired him as his second stable jockey after Belgian champion Christophe Soumillon.
That year, Badel enjoyed his most successful season to-date with a haul of 104 winners and a seventh position finish on the log, also winning his third Group 2 race, the Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte aboard Donjuan Triumphant.
After the Aga Khan chapter (lasted two years), Badel found himself back in rarefied air in 2016 – and for an even more pivotal moment of his riding career: Hong Kong.
“As a jockey, Hong Kong has been super glorifying to my career. France is my base, but I love spending the winter there,” said Badel who rides mainly freelance now, but has a close association with young up-and-coming French trainer Henri-Francois Devin.
“Everything is so professional and the Hong Kong Jockey Club has really looked after me.
“It’s tough for any jockey who tries to break through there at short temporary visits. The jockeys there are world-class, and you have to work hard to earn your place in the sun.
“I really went flat out and brought my A-game to show the owners and trainers I wasn’t there for a holiday.”
Another Asian trip is coming up for Badel, and once again, it’s unlikely he will be packing Lonely Planet and sunblock in his suitcase.
He would, however, love to return home with a silverware still missing from his trophy cabinet – a Group 1 win.