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Kos this could be Wong's turn

Rising star Lim’s Kosciuszko may spur on Malaysian jockey’s bright 2023 start further

Those who had foreseen 2023 as the year of an epic two-horse race between Manoel Nunes and Vlad Duric may want to change their crystal balls.

Granted, only four meetings have got under way, but, going on the early speedmap, those pundits are already on the backfoot.

They did get half of their prediction right, though.

Defending champion Nunes does sit in the blue corner. But opposite him in the red corner, it is not Duric who, to be fair, struggles with his weight, albeit he has still knocked in three winners in only nine rides.

In the Australian’s place, someone else has thrown down the gauntlet – Wong Chin Chuen.

The Malaysian hoop is no surprise challenger, though, and certainly no pushover. His resume boasts two Singapore champion apprentice crowns and a silver medal behind Nunes in 2022.

The consensus was that Wong had the pedigree to win the Holy Grail one day but, in the shadows of heavy-hitters like Nunes or Duric, maybe his time had not come yet.

Wong did not get the memo.

From the get-go, he has flown the lids, and has now chalked up 11 winners, the same score as Nunes to sit second-best only on a countback for seconds.

With 43 meetings still to go, Wong, who was nearly stranded in Malaysia for one whole season during Covid-19, is aware the landscape can change overnight.

The super-pumped hoop is just keen to maintain the focus and momentum he had actually worked towards one month out.

“Of course, after the good results from last year, I wanted to keep the momentum going,” he said.

“During the break, a lot of jockeys were not here. I only went for a short Bali trip with my family, but once I came back, I rode work from the second week of December.

“I got strong support from many trainers and connections. I’m still freelance but I go around stables riding the horses I’ll ride the following week.

“It’s thanks to all the support that I was able to have a great start to the new season.”

It shows in the depth of his book of rides week after week, a privilege that is usually the province of A-listers like Nunes or Duric.

Being at the right place at the right time also counts, although job experience does also tip the scales the right way.

This Saturday, the 29-year-old gets a gun ride. The Daniel Meagher-trained Lim’s Kosciuszko was the 2022 pin-up horse despite running last in the Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint (1,200m) in December.

Wong is no stranger to the 11-time winner. Besides an earlier win, he more pointedly won the Group 1 Lion City Cup (1,200m) in an ad-hoc pairing in 2022.

It came three months after his Group 1 breakthrough on Meagher’s original champ, Lim’s Lightning, in the Kranji Mile.

As the “second-string” jockey, Wong was on both occasions the lucky beneficiary from stable jockey Danny Beasley picking the wrong ride.

The difference this time is Wong is making his own luck with the No. 1 rider out of the picture.

“When Beasley returned to Australia, I told Daniel I was keen to get back on Lim’s Kosciuszko if the horse is still available. He said he would check and get back to me,” said Wong.

“A few days later, he said it was not a problem for me to get back on him as I already know the horse.

“But it’s not a sure thing like the time Beasley was their first jockey. It’s on a race-by-race basis.”

Wong has done his homework around the $110,000 Group 3 Merlion Trophy (1,200m) on Polytrack, the first of a bumped-up line-up of 2023 feature races – 19 versus eight in 2022.

“He has drawn a good barrier (four) which will make my job easier,” he said.

“Unlike the Lion City Cup when I sat on him on race day, I’ve ridden him in work this week.

“I was happy enough with his trial. I did not force him as we want to build his confidence back after his Hong Kong trip.

“I thought he was even better after the trial (Jan 26). We cantered the whole week, and I think he’s very well, nothing to complain.

“From what he shows me in the mornings, he works and trials well on Polytrack. So I think he should handle it on race day, too.

“He is racing against more or less the same horses. It’s not very strong competition but Rocket Star also trialled good in that same trial (second).

“Gold Star ran well with me once on Polytrack. It was in the same Merlion Trophy in 2021.”