The New Zealand jockey ranks will be bolstered significantly by the return of Craig Grylls from Singapore.
The 28-year-old, who has ridden eight Group One winners and more than forty stakes winners, was back riding trackwork at Matamata on Wednesday morning after he and wife Milou returned home on Tuesday.
“It was good catching up with everyone at trackwork and hopefully I can form some good associations again,”Grylls said.
“I was away just a touch over 18 months. I loved it, it was really good and a great experience and I am very thankful to the Singapore Racing Club for the opportunity.
“It was a bit different to home but I found I adapted pretty quickly, met some good people and made some really good associations. I made a lot of life-long friends.”
Grylls rode 44 winners in his 18 months in Singapore and finished seventh on the jockeys’ premiership last season with 35 wins.
“I built up a good partnership with Lee Freedman, and he was really good to me. The Kiwi trainers, Mark Walker, Donna (Logan), and Bruce Marsh all gave me a lot of support too, and the local trainers were good too.”
Riding against quality international riders including Vlad Duric, Michael Rodd and Glen Boss also brought out the best in Grylls.
“It was very competitive but I got along with all of those boys and I learnt a lot riding there. I could have a good yarn with them and they are all great fellas.”
Grylls said his return to New Zealand was principally due to lifestyle reasons.
“It had been a year and a half and I missed the lifestyle of home a bit. I was happy with the way I was going over there, work was good, but we just felt like it was time to go home. We were missing home quite a bit.”
With much talk of the introduction of synthetic tracks in New Zealand for racing and training purposes, Grylls gained first-hand experience riding on Kranji’s polytrack.
“The polytrack is definitely different to the turf,” Grylls said. “I found it to be a real on-speed sort of track. They do come from the back but they go really hard on the poly. In Singapore they go quite hard anyway, but on the polytrack they really let them rip which took a while to get used to.
“There is a little bit of kick back, but not a huge amount like on a sand track.”
Grylls will be straight back into the cut and thrust of racing this weekend with his rides including Sweet Leader for Lance O’Sullivan and Andrew Scott in the Gr.1 JR & N Berkett Telegraph (1200m) and Lady In Lace in the Gr.3 Williment Travel Group Desert Gold Stakes (1600m) for David and Emma Haworth.
Like Grylls, Sweet Leader has returned from a stint in Asia, where he raced on two occassions in Hong Kong but finished out of the money. The Matamata horseman is not sure what to expect on Saturday but has combined successfully with the son of O’Reilly before their respective overseas forays.
“I won three on him and the third race I won was the Cambridge Breeders’ Stakes (Gr.3, 1200m) before he went to Hong Kong and he was pretty impressive that day. He came from the back and flew home, he has the ability there.
“I cantered him this morning and he seems well. It is hard to gauge how he is going because he didn’t’ do much in Hong Kong.”
While Grylls said he was keen to renew his old associations, he wasn’t bound to one stable and his ability to ride light will also be a positive for New Zealand trainers.
“I wouldn’t consider myself a stable jockey, I’m still a freelance rider open to ride for anyone,” he said.
“I was riding at 52kgs in the hot climate in Singapore, but I have had five weeks off after the last meeting so am going to limit myself to 55kgs for the first couple of weeks. When I’m fit and up and going riding at 53kgs shouldn’t be an issue. I can do that quite comfortably.
“It might take me a month to get back to peak fitness but it is great to be back.”