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Espindola makes Kranji debut

Brazilian fulfils dream to join compatriots Nunes, Queiroz in Singapore riding ranks

As a wide-eyed young apprentice still honing his craft in Rio de Janeiro, Vitor Espindola liked to watch fellow Brazilian jockeys ply their trade around the world.

Not only was the Dourados native flushed with pride when he saw the offshore deeds of Joao Moreira, Silvestre de Sousa or Manoel Nunes but he dreamt that, one day, he could spread his wings, too.

To one country in particular, Singapore, where many jockeys from a country better known for samba and football have found success.

Besides Moreira and Nunes who share eight Kranji premiership titles between them, Ruan Maia, Ivaldo Santana and, more recently, Bernardo Pinheiro as well as the one widely tipped to be Moreira’s heir apparent (he is also his godson), Bruno Queiroz.

They are big boots to fill, but Espindola was bent on charting the same career path to the Little Red Dot.

A riding offer in 2022 saw him land a job close by, but not quite there – Malaysia.

A first foreign stint in Kuwait had given Espindola the wanderlust. He won 20 races, including a Group 1 and a Group 2 in the oil-rich country.

Malaysia might not match the Middle East riches, but it was still a good competitive gig – and, possibly, a stepping stone to his dream country next door.

But then, awe turned to shock with the announcement that Singapore racing was closing in October 2024.

The news could have deterred Espindola, but it actually spurred him on.

Before the famous Kranji racecourse gives way to high-rise apartments, it was now or never.

Espindola threw his hat in the ring sometime in August and, to his delight, the Singapore Turf Club wanted him to join the roster even though they were living on borrowed time.

“I knew Singapore racing was closing but I still wanted to ride here. I’m here to work hard and try my best,” he said.

“I’ve liked Singapore for a long time. I used to watch Moreira, Nunes, Maia.

“I rode with Bruno and Bernardo back in Rio. I know them very well.

“When trainer HY (Han Yong) Cheng asked me to ride in Malaysia last year, I was keen to go.

“He’s been watching me for a long time in Brazil during the time I was champion apprentice (2020/2021).

“I thought it would be a good experience after my Kuwait trip. It’ll also take me closer to Singapore.”

Seven months riding 15 winners across the Causeway turned out to be the perfect springboard.

But even after landing with wife Maqueli in October, picking Yishun as their new home, Espindola still had to endure a long wait before he could slip into his breeches.

“I’ve been in Singapore for one month but the work permit took two months to get,” he said.

“To keep fit, I went to the gym every day and I also ran and swam.

“When my employment pass was finally approved on Nov 3, I was given the ride on Maxima in the Gold Cup (on Nov 11).

“But I felt it was not right to take rides last week as I was not 100 per cent, but now, I’m fit.

“I started riding trackwork on Nov 7. At six o’clock, I always ride my first two horses for Tim (Fitzsimmons).

“I also help CT (Cheng Tee) Kuah, Mahadi (Taib) and Ricardo (Le Grange). All up, I ride around seven to eight horses every morning.”

The hard graft was repaid with six rides on Saturday: Golden Charger (Race 3) and Ciango (Race 4) for Kuah, Boomba (Race 8) and Condor (Race 11) for Fitzsimmons, Sheng Warrior (Race 9) for Mahadi and Elite Legend (Race 10) for Richard Lim.

However, Kranji’s latest addition to the riding ranks would rather not hazard a guess on which mount could give him a fairy-tale start.

“It’s the first time I ride these horses, so I don’t know their form. I hope I can have at least one win at my first day,” he said.