Rusof in line for Kiwi Group 1

Melody Belle and Shafiq Rusof following their victory in the Gr.2 Foxbridge Plate (1200m). Photo credit: Trish Dunell

Malaysian-born rider Shafiq Rusof has an outstanding opportunity to notch his first New Zealand Group 1 win when he partners high-class mare Melody Belle in Saturday’s Group 1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m).

Rusof has made a favourable impression since commencing his second stint in New Zealand in March this year.

The 31-year-old is a former champion apprentice jockey in Singapore, but was not relicensed by the Singapore Turf Club at the end of 2017, along with a host of other riders.

Rusof joined the likes of Manoel Nunes, Derreck David, Oscar Chavez, John Sundradas and Syafiq Hazman on the outer as the Club looked for new blood in the jockeys’ ranks.

“It’s been great to come back here and experience something different,” Rusof said.

“Last season was not too bad. I had a few suspensions and I was only riding for the last couple of months of the season, but to win a Group 2 on Our Abbadean (Travis Stakes) was very pleasing.”

With 17 wins and a Group 2 to his name last season, Rusof is keen to make the most of his opportunities this season and has already ridden three winners, including Melody Belle in the Group 2 Foxbridge Plate (1200m).

He has come full circle to the country where he honed his craft as an apprentice jockey under Mark Walker’s tutelage at Te Akau Racing. He booted home three winners in 36 rides between 2009 and 2010 before later following Walker to Singapore when he relocated in 2010.

“I am very lucky to have Te Akau supporting me,” Rusof said. They have been right behind me since 2007. Every time I am down, they build me up.

“Mark Walker is in New Zealand at the moment and it would be great to ride a Group 1 winner for Te Akau and Jamie Richards while Mark is here.”

Rusof is pleased with the progress of Melody Belle since the Foxbridge Plate and is confident the $3.80 favourite can provide him with a first New Zealand Group 1 success.

“I didn’t really know her that well, but I worked her before the Foxbridge Plate,” he said. “I wasn’t 100 perc ent confident going into the race, but she is a high-class horse. She is a Group 1 horse.

“I rode her in a gallop last Saturday and she has improved. She is much better than when she won the Foxbridge.

“I think she will be very hard to beat in the Tarzino over the 1400m with the way she worked last Saturday.”

Rusof’s biggest win to date came in 2015 in the S$1.35 million Singapore Gold Cup (2200m) on Cooptado, trained by Patrick Shaw.

But the opportunity to win a feature for Te Akau Racing would be something special Rusof said.

“I really look forward to winning a Group 1 race in New Zealand. I just hope everything goes right on Saturday.”