A little more than a year ago, jockey Julien Kokotajlo made a significant career choice and moved to Perth to ride.
Fast forward 12 months and he finally gets an opportunity to ride in a Group race in Australia.
On Saturday, Kokotajlo will team up with the Darren McAuliffe-trained The Big Show in the Group 2 TABtouch-Perth Cup (2400m).
As well as it being his first Group ride in Australia, it’s the first time Kokotajlo has had the chance to team up with The Big Show, an opportunity he’s excited about.
“I’m very thankful to Darren and all the owners,” he said.
“It’s a privilege to be in the race and to be able to ride for Darren.
“He knows the horse very well and he doesn’t put too much pressure on me.”
The 33-year-old spent time in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria applying his trade in the saddle on a working holiday visa.
It was a reasonably successful first season, chalking up 15 winners.
However, Kokotajlo has found himself in the winner’s enclosure more frequently this season, recording 18 winners, six of those in the metropolitan area.
He endured a testing first year in Western Australia, as he tried to find his place among the local jockey ranks.
“It was a bit tough to start with,” he said.
“Things got much better at the end of last season though.
“I’ve started to get some good back up from good trainers and I’m getting on good horses too.
“It’s been about finding my way with people who I know and I can trust.
“I’m always positive and always try to push through the hard times.”
Perhaps Kokotajlo’s biggest challenge in Perth came in September’s Listed Idyllic Prince Stakes, when fellow jockey William Pike, aboard runner-up Man Booker, launched a protest against race winner Rebel King, ridden by Mitchell Pateman.
Pike alleged Kokotajlo, aboard Rebel King’s stablemate and fourth placegetter By Decree, allowed Rebel King to gain an unfair advantage along the rails.
The protest was dismissed, but Kokotajlo said it was a tough time for him personally.
“I was really upset because it attacked my professionalism,” he told RWWA’s Julio Santarelli last September.
“I was trying my best and I was still upset a day after it happened.”
The Big Show has emerged as one of WA’s more promising stayers this campaign, winning three of his past four starts, including an effortless 4 ¾ length win on December 1.
The Frost Giant gelding was single figure odds for the Perth Cup last week, but when he was allocated barrier 18 at yesterday’s barrier draw, his odds blew out to $26.
Kokotajlo said he wasn’t concerned by the wide barrier and remained confident the four-year-old would get his chance to win the staying event.
“Over 2400, you do get time to find your spot,” he said.
“Sometimes the wide barrier can be an advantage.
“I think the horse is really nice.
“He’s got ability and he also has a big heart.”
The Big Show is one of two runners in the race for Mc Auliffe, who will also saddle up multiple Group 2 winner Gatting.
Gatting has the top-weight of 59kg in the Perth Cup, with Damian Lane booked to ride.
Mc Auliffe said The Big Show would find it tough to win from the wide gate, but was upbeat about Gatting’s prospects.
“He’s proven that he can carry the weight,” he told TABradio.
“The horse is happy, healthy and well and I couldn’t be any happier with him.
“For him to come back and race at the level he has the past couple of years, it’s a feather in the cap.”
TABtouch favourite Action has received significant support today and is now a $2.30 favourite for the Perth Cup, ahead of Mississippi Delta at $5.50, while Gatting is $6 chance.
After a trying first year at his new home, Kokotajlo said it would be “huge” if he could find a way to cause an upset in the Perth Cup.
A year of toiling away has led to a golden opportunity for the hoop and one would suggest it will be a big show come 4.35 on Saturday afternoon if he passes the post first.