Darren Danis is starting to hit his straps in the New Zealand apprentice jockey ranks after a frustrating introduction to his riding career.
The son of former jockey Luke Danis, the Malaysian credits his father for his introduction to racing, but said he was a late bloomer to the sport despite his father's profession.
"I never really got a chance to watch Dad ride at the races when I was a child. Back then they didn't allow anyone under the age of 18 to go to the races. However, they managed to sneak me into a few carnival days when I was 17, but apart from that I didn't get to see him ride.
"Dad now trains in Malaysia and currently has 14 horses in work.
"The first time I jumped on a horse I was hooked. I was 17 and it was just after my final exams at high school.
"Dad asked me what I was doing in the holidays, I wasn't too sure so he said to go and help him at the stables. So I started to help him out and found out what being in the Industry was actually like."
Despite his mother's hopes that he would go to university, he decided to follow his father into the racing game. "I started with Dad in Malaysia and after I got the hang of riding Dad sent me to Singapore and I worked for Brian Dean."
Dean, a former jockey himself passed his knowledge on to Danis. He was also a key figure in his decision to seek further experience overseas.
"He taught me a lot of things because I wasn't really that experienced when I was in Singapore," Danis said. "He told me I had a lot of potential, but that I needed to broaden my knowledge of horses because I started a bit later than most people."
His first thoughts were to move to Australia. However, after speaking with Singapore-based Kiwi trainer Laurie Laxon, he decided on New Zealand instead.
"While I was waiting for my Australian visa I was just asking around about New Zealand and Laurie Laxon said Ken Kelso was looking for a worker or an apprentice."
Danis moved to New Zealand in October 2014 to join Kelso and spent 10 months in his barn before moving to work for Wayne and Vanessa Hillis. He subsequently attained his riding licence and began his apprenticeship under Hillis two months later.
"Wayne and Vanessa have been very good to me," Danis said. "Wayne used to be a jockey himself, so he knows what it is like and tells me what I should watch and learn. Being away from family, they have accepted me as a part of theirs, they treat me more like a family member than just another worker or apprentice."
In his second season of riding in New Zealand Danis was able to achieve all the goals he set himself despite a slow start.
"I was only racing once a week or once every couple of weeks, but Wayne told me to hang in there and don't worry. My partner Mette Mosebo has also been very helpful and has always been the backbone of my support.
"At one point I was thinking of going back home because it was that frustrating, but it slowly kicked in this season and I got my first winner and it carried on from there.
"I just completed this season's goals, which was to get a double and reach 10 wins."
Danis said his father continued to help in his development as a rider and gave him feedback after every race.
"I always call Dad at the end of the day to tell him about my rides."
He is enjoying his time in New Zealand and is not sure what the future holds, but he said he would return to Malaysia at some point to continue his career.
- NZ Racing Desk