Another leading name is leaving Singapore, though this time, the circumstances are different from the current COVID-19-induced push factor that has driven the likes of Lee Freedman and Cliff Brown out, and it’s not a trainer, but a jockey – Ruan Maia.
Just when we thought 2021 would be the year of the Brazilian following the way the gun rider tested four-time Singapore champion jockey Vlad Duric all the way to the wire at his first season last year, news has just come through he will take up a lucrative contract in Hong Kong from March until the end of their current season.
The 32-year-old hoop had already hit the ground running with seven winners and the current premiership lead in the new Singapore season, but regrettably, it will all amount to nothing as early as after this Saturday’s meeting.
Ruan Maia at the last feature race he won in Singapore, the Group 3 Colonial Chief Stakes (1600m) aboard Lee Freedman's grey Super Dynasty, picture Singapore Turf Club
Having a two-meeting suspension for careless riding to serve from next week, Maia confirmed he will be bidding farewell to Singapore racing this Saturday itself!
The main reason why Maia’s sudden loss to Kranji is different from Freedman and Brown, and even the previous jockeys who departed last year, like Michael Rodd, Alysha Collett or Daniel Moor, is it wasn’t him who made the call.
“It’s always been my dream to ride in Hong Kong one day, but my goal was to stay at least two to three years in Singapore and hopefully become champion jockey one day. I wanted to build up a strong CV and hoped that would help me get into Hong Kong,” said Maia.
“But it’s the Hong Kong Jockey Club who has invited me instead! I was pleasantly surprised of course, and there was no way I could say no to such an opportunity.
“This is the place where I have always wanted to end up, and it’s come up sooner than I thought. I would be silly to turn it down now.
“Yes of course, I wished I could have done one full season in Singapore, as I really thought I would have a good chance to win the championship, but unfortunately, it won’t be for this year.
“I love Singapore, it’s a lovely place, and here I have to thank the Singapore Turf Club for giving me the opportunity to ride at this wonderful place for one season.
“My wife Erica and I are very sad to leave as we made many friends here, but at the same time, we are very excited as this kind of opportunity only happens once in a lifetime.
“I can’t believe I will actually be riding at my last Singapore meeting this Saturday as I will miss the next two meetings through suspension, and then, I have to fly to Hong Kong at the beginning of February so I can serve the three-week quarantine.
“Then I should be able to ride trackwork for around one week and start riding in races from March 1.”
Maia won’t need too many rounds of orientation at his new office. Not only his name is already well-known through his deeds in neighbouring Macau, including two champion jockey titles in the former Portuguese enclave, as well as his cracking season in Singapore, but he has also ridden at Sha Tin.
“I rode in Hong Kong in 2018 and 2019 at the Hong Kong-Macau Interport races. In 2018, the Macau horse I was supposed to ride was scratched, but I picked up seven rides (from the undercard) and rode one second for Tony Cruz and a third for Benno Yung (Tin-pang),” he recalled.
“Then in 2019, I had only one ride on Mister Kaopu in the Hong Kong Macau Trophy, but he ran unplaced. Still, it was a good experience and I got to meet a few trainers, which will help me a lot when I get there.
“I will become the third Brazilian jockey there. Of course I know Joao Moreira very well for having ridden against him many times in Sao Paulo, and I also know Vagner Borges well, even though he was from Rio de Janeiro.
“It’s all happened so fast; I’m still asking myself if it’s not a dream! We were so settled in here, and we’ll have to start saying our goodbyes.
“I really have not planned for this to happen, and now I have to get ready in a bit of a rush. For example, my one-year lease, I will have to break lease and probably lose a one-month rental or two, but that’s a small price to pay compared to getting the Hong Kong job, it’s like winning the lottery first prize!”
The Hong Kong dream may have come knocking on the door sooner than he had anticipated, but Maia said he has definitely not closed the door on a return to the Kranji grounds one day.
“Who knows, if the international races are back and the borders are reopened, I might be back riding a Hong Kong horse at Kranji one day. Whatever it is, I would really like to come back again,” he said.
Maia first made Kranji sit up and take notice at his first visit in April 2018 when still licensed by the Macau Jockey Club. He hit the jackpot at his only ride, Circuit Land in the Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy for, incidentally, Freedman’s first Group success in Singapore.
He has since returned for similar hit-and-run cameos in 2019, and though he didn’t enjoy the same luck, he was granted a one-year licence the following year where, despite seeing the season interrupted by COVID-19, he really took Kranji by storm, booting home 62 winners, just three shy of Duric, including four at Group level, two being Group 1s, the Kranji Mile and the Raffles Cup, both on Aramaayo (who is incidentally joining Inferno on a plane to Australia on Saturday to continue his racing career with Chris Waller in Sydney).
The two other feature races Maia won happened to be the last two on the 2020 Singapore racing calendar, the Group 2 Singapore Golden Horseshoe with Boomba and the Group 3 Colonial Chief Stakes with Super Dynasty, uncannily, for the two outgoing trainers, Brown and Freedman respectively.
On another note, Maia also made a name for himself for his outstanding record on Polytrack. Of his total tally of 70 winners at Kranji, 43 have occurred on the alternative track for a strike rate of 61%.
Going forward, it would indeed be interesting to see if he enjoys the same cult following on the Sha Tin all-weather track.