Bright light at the end of the tunnel
Jockey C.C. Wong overcomes darkest days to achieve his personal best with 37 winners
After a tough and forgettable 2020 – the darkest time of his life – jockey Wong Chin Chuen saw the light at the end of the tunnel in the 2021 Singapore racing season.
It was a lot brighter than he had hoped for. He rode with great resolve and determination to achieve his personal best in his six-and-a-half years after relocating from his native Malaysia.
He finished this year with 37 winners to be fourth behind Kelantan-born Hakim Kamaruddin (59), Australian Danny Beasley (57) and Frenchman Marc Lerner (46) in the Singapore riders’ premiership.
The result was way over his eight winners last year, when his career was marred by the border shutdown because of the pandemic. He was stranded in his Johor Baru base, not knowing when he could ride at Kranji again.
“It was the best season in my career. Everything went well. With fewer expat jockeys, I was lucky to get on better quality horses. I gained more confidence and trainers put me on their horses,” said the affable 28-year-old, who is better known as C.C. Wong or Jimmy at Kranji.
“I was also involved with two very good horses in the Group 1 races – Rocket Star ran second in the Lion City Cup and Mr Malek was third in the Singapore Gold Cup. Both lost to the Horse of the Year, Lim’s Lightning.”
He was thankful to the trainers and owners who supported him, especially outgoing champion Mark Walker, who provided him with many winners, Steven Burridge, Ricardo Le Grange, Stephen Gray and lately Jerome Tan.
He was also grateful to the Singapore Turf Club for granting him the licence and supporting his employment pass. Not only that, the club also sponsored the dependant passes of his former beautician wife Charlene, 34, and son Jayden, who will be two next month.
The family of three are finally living together in Singapore.
In March last year, after going back to see his wife and his then two-month-old son in Johor Baru, from where he used to ride his motorcycle to Kranji for track work and races, he was caught in a limbo. The two-time Singapore top apprentice never expected his homecoming to be over five months long – without an income.
“Yes, I had a lot of time with my wife and kid, but it was worrying as I lost my source of income,” said Wong. “During that time, I played badminton with my friends and went to the gym to keep my fitness. I tried selling things online, but it wasn’t my thing.
“I started riding when I was 17. Riding is my passion and I wouldn’t know what to do if I quit.”
He began to think about a lot of things, even his retirement plans. But, most important of all, about his immediate future as a jockey.
“I really missed the action. I wanted so much to be in the races myself when I watched the race videos,” he said.
It was only in the first week of August last year that he finally obtained the green light to return to Singapore. But he had to serve the mandatory two-week quarantine in a designated hotel, where he exercised a lot to keep fit.
He did trackwork after coming out to muscle up for competitive riding before he accepted rides at the end of the month. He then worked hard on his career, while missing his young family. But it has all paid off handsomely.
It was the speed demon in him on the motorcycle in “my kampung days in Sungei Petani in Kedah” that started him on the fast lane on the racecourse.
“My uncle said there was no money to make riding so fast on my motorbike, why don’t I become a jockey?” said Wong, who has won a Malaysian Group 1 feature and two Group 3s in Singapore.
So, in 2014, he started as a stablehand with the now-retired Penang trainer, Dr Tan Swee Hock. He got his apprentice licence in June that year and rode 16 winners. After kicking home 24 winners in the first half of 2015, he came down south to be indentured to Kranji-based English trainer David Hill, whose assistant was Dr Tan’s son, Kah Soon. From then on, he kept improving.
Dr Tan recalled that Wong was introduced to him by former apprentice jockey Lim Hock Kheng.
“When he came to my stable as a 16-year-old, he weighed only 36kg. My initial reaction was he was too light to be a jockey,“ he said.
“But he was a well-mannered and diligent worker, always willing to learn about horses – from anybody who gave him tips about riding. He was the second batch of local apprentices who were granted licences without going abroad for training.
“I was very delighted when he achieved the champion apprentice title in Singapore twice. Now that he has made his presence felt as a jockey, I am very happy for him. He deserves all of it.”
Indeed, he does. Wong has not only grown to 52kg, but also to a top jockey in his own right.