Ronnie and his girls are raring to go
Three-time S’pore Gold Cup-winning hero is among seven expat jockeys for next year
The bags are packed. Saddles, too. They’re ready to go – just as soon as the paperwork is all sorted out.
Ronnie Stewart expects it to be soon.
Until then, the jockey can only say that he’s looking forward to the next chapter of his Singapore adventure. And, yes, he is all excited.
Well, not just him. When he boards that flight from Brisbane’s airport to Singapore’s Changi, he will have with him his wife, Sheryl Cheam, and their 18-month-old daughter, Dakota.
“This will be her first trip outside Australia, and we are excited for her,” said Stewart, who is one of seven expatriate jockeys licensed by the Singapore Turf Club for next year.
“Sheryl’s mum will be meeting up with us in Singapore and she will be over the moon seeing and cuddling her granddaughter for the first time.”
Racegoers will remember Cheam as one of the few woman jockeys to have ridden at Kranji.
She has since hung up her riding boots to be a full-time mother.
When I caught up with Stewart for this telephone interview, he was mowing the lawn of their suburban Brisbane abode and, while he said it was not easy leaving house and home, he was quick to add that he always carried fond memories of his time in Singapore. He was here from 2006 to 2011.
“It’s such a great place to live and work,” he said. “Singapore, as a racing jurisdiction, has so much potential. Yes, you could say, I’ve always had a soft spot for Singapore.”
Asked if that “soft spot” had anything to do with a horse named El Dorado, Stewart replied that it was so.
And why not? El Dorado shot the young jockey to fame in 2008, 2009 and 2011. Three times, El Dorado won the time-honoured Singapore Gold Cup and three times he had Stewart in the saddle.
That was when the Australian was still in his 20s. He is now 38 years old.
It was after he had steered El Dorado to that third Gold Cup win that Stewart left Singapore.
“I’m still in contact with Hideyuki Takaoka,” he said, of the man who trained El Dorado. “And I’m waiting to touch base with him when I get to Kranji.
“I was really thrilled to hear from him that El Dorado’s owners had retired the horse in Japan. He deserved a carefree retirement. I’m happy for him.”
The other horse which brought him success was Jolie Shinju. He rode him to victory in the Patron’s Bowl, the Singapore Derby Trial and the Singapore Derby. The races were the Singapore Four-Year-Old Triple Crown series in 2009.
Stewart was therefore shocked and saddened to hear that Jolie Shinju’s owner, Dr K.C. Tan, had died last Sunday.
“It was always a pleasure to ride for him,” said Stewart. “He was a true gentleman owner who, I hear, gave a lot to charity. My condolences go out to his loved ones.”
Stewart has been a jockey for 21 years and he has ridden more than 800 winners. He still goes to scale at 50kg.
More recently, he tasted big-race success when he rode a horse called Selino to win the Sydney Cup, a 3,200m race with prize money of A$2 million (S$1.92 million).
Looking back, he said: “The horse, trained by Chris Waller, had drawn an outside gate and I had him settle in midfield.
“He was an aggressive sort and he pulled very hard. Luckily, the tempo was steady and I let him take me into the race.
“At the 400m mark, we found the leaders. I then worked him up the Randwick incline and, with no weight on his back, I played catch me if you can with the others.
“In the end, everything unfolded nicely for us.”
Of course, he will be hoping to land some big ones at Kranji. But, for now, the task at hand is to make full use of the opportunities which fall his way.
We wish him and his girls the very best of luck.