Smiling Joe reflects on breakthrough season

By Dennis Ryan

3 Aug 2022

Smiling Joe reflects on breakthrough seasonJoe Kamaruddin has overcome a slow start to now be the country’s champion apprentice.

“I am so pleased with what I have achieved and most of all I want to keep riding winners.”
Joe Kamaruddin has another major milestone on the horizon, but it will have to go on hold while he sets out to build on his breakthrough 2021-22 season.
Over the past 12 months the Malaysian-born 29-year-old has risen to the top of junior jockey ranks, riding 62 winners to claim the apprentice title as well opening his black-type account and rounding off the season with a career tally of 100.
With his first apprentice championship officially recorded, Kamaruddin has no intention of letting up into the new season. That will mean delaying plans for a well-earned visit home and marriage to his long-time partner and fellow Te Akau Racing employee Nardia Zainal, but they’re both comfortable with that decision.
“We have plans to get married – that will make our families very happy – but with everything else happening we will need to choose a time that will work,” Kamaruddin told RaceForm as he reflected on his future.
“My Mum and my Dad are already very proud of me, and for us that is important. I am so pleased with what I have achieved and most of all I want to keep riding winners.
“This season has been very lucky for me. My bosses David Ellis, Jamie Richards and now Mark Walker have all been great for my career, and so have all the other trainers and their owners who have given me rides. I just want to thank them all.”
Twelve months ago Kamaruddin was a four-kilogram claimer with 38 wins. That in itself was an achievement, having taken more than a year after his race-riding debut to claim his first win.
“When I first started riding I wondered when my first winner would come, it took a long time but I would never give up. Everyone was saying to me ‘Don’t worry Joe, it will come, you just have to take your time and believe in yourself’.
“So that was what I did, but I still got much help from other jockeys like Troy Harris, Opie Bosson and Michael McNab. And Noel Harris, the legend, a really nice guy too who helped me at apprentice school going through the replays of my rides and telling me where I was going wrong.”
In his role as northern riding mentor, Hall of Fame jockey Noel Harris offered counsel that mainly entailed convincing Kamaruddin the basics were what mattered, far more so than trying too hard to achieve his goals.
“I told Joe that over-thinking and trying to over-ride his horses wasn’t working for him,” Harris said. “He needed to get back to basics, concentrate on rhythm and balance, let things happen without forcing them.
“The win that turned the corner for him was on Challa at Te Rapa (in October 2020). He bounced it to the lead, let it relax and hardly hit it up the straight. A couple of weeks later they did the same again at Hastings – that proved to Joe that winning could be straightforward, you didn’t have to overdo things.”
Harris makes some valid points as he reflects on a change in riding styles that have been integral to Kamaruddin and others thriving in what has become a different environment.
“In my day if you couldn’t use the stick and be seen to be using it, you wouldn’t get rides. That’s all changed now with the restrictions on whip use and it’s made better riders of the younger brigade especially. Joe is a perfect example of that and it’s great to see him and others having the success that goes with it.”
While his skills in the saddle needed a lot of fine tuning, what came naturally to Kamaruddin was an affable personality. “Smiling Joe” is a moniker that fits well, alongsid his popularity in the jockeys’ room.
“I call the other jockeys my brother, the boys are all happy for me,” he says. “Even when not winning, working hard is no problem to me – but even better when I get a win!”