By TONY WHITE
AFTER 13 years based in Grafton as a race steward Michael Zarb is galloping off to Singapore.
Zarb, 38, the current Northern Rivers Racing Association deputy chief steward, has accepted a lucrative three-year contract with the Singapore Turf Club.
"While I've enjoyed living in Grafton, the people have been fantastic, this is a great opportunity for myself and the family and one that was too good to pass up," Zarb said of the impending move.
The former jockey turned steward after being forced out of the saddle following injuries sustained after a bad race fall aboard Wellington Jack at Hawkesbury on October 2, 1987.
"The horse took a side step at the 200 metres. I went over the thing's head and ended up breaking my wrist and ankle," Zarb said.
The ankle never healed correctly and despite Zarb's willingness to return to riding, he was unable to get a doctor's clearence from the Australian Jockey Club.
"I was living in Newcastle at the time and had no idea what I was going to do," Zarb said.
"I was pretty disconsolate and it was Michael Beattie (former steward and now CEO of Gosford Race Club) who helped get me interested and guide me into becoming a steward."
Zarb rode 99 winners during his career, his best on Varcenia in the Listed Princess Stakes at Hawkesbury.
But it was his association with his master, Bede Horan's, great campaigner Real Dream that is fondest in Zarb's memory.
"Real Dream was owned by Bill Fisher and I broke him in, educated him and won 16 races on the horse," Zarb said.
"Everytime I'd had a lean spell or was coming back from injury, Real Dream seemed to be around. He was a bloody good horse to me."
These days Zarb still bears a limp and wears orthotic shoes as a legacy of the broken ankle.
"Other than that it's pretty good," Zarb said. "I had a few injuries. I broke seven wrists and six collarbones during my career.
"That's why I'm not a jockey anymore," he said.
After spending 21/2 years as a cadet steward in Sydney then 11 months in Wagga Wagga, Zarb was transferred to Grafton in October, 1992.
He has served under three local chief stewards ? Fred Worrad, John Davidson and current chairman, Bill Fanning.
"Fred was a terrific fella, still is," Zarb said in admiration.
"Bill has been a great mentor. He's led me in the right direction, taught me heaps and if it wasn't for him I probably wouldn't be in a position to get the opportunity in Singapore."
It was Worrad, the racing and general community of Grafton who came to the Zarb family's aid after their daughter Samantha was badly injured when she was dragged several hundred metres by a bus five years ago.
"The support we received from everyone in racing and the community in general was just unbelievable, fantastic," Zarb said.
"The fund raisers, donations and support to help Samantha, amazing.
"In my job you don't get too many people wanting to be your mate but what everyone did will always remain very special.
"I'd just like to thank everyone again."
Zarb has been heavily involved in tutoring would be jockeys and apprentices both in his guise as a steward and in his free time.
He was instrumental in starting apprentice schools in Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour and has given numerous lectures and lessons at the Australian Racing Institute, based at Murwillumbah.
"It's the part of my job and the part I get the most enjoyment from," he said.
"And it will be a big part of my role in Singapore, working with the apprentices and track riders.
"I consider it a bonus to the job."
Two of Zarb's former 'pupils' include Zac Purton, now a leading rider in Brisbane and Michael Rodd, the Gold Coast sensation riding successfully in Hong Kong.
"Zac used to come to my place and ride my pony and I spent a lot of time with him early in his career," Zarb said.
"I was actually the first bloke to suspend Michael (Rodd).
"Michael used to ride here (North Coast) before he became successful on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane.
"He's proven himself to be a top class horseman.
"I don't want to take any credit for them, both boys were always destined to be great riders, but it's always a pleasure working with kids and helping them become the best they can.
"Then there's a bloke like Craig Franklin.
"I think the frustrated jockey still comes out in me.
"Every time they ride a winner I feel like I'm riding part of it."
Twelve months back Zarb took up surfing, "love it," he said, but his 8 foot 6 inch surfboard will be left in his father's care at Gerringong on the NSW south coast.
"Dad's 66 and started surfing about the same time as me. "He's five foot nothing and watching him carry the board down to the beach is a sight to behold," Zarb said.
Zarb will be in Singapore for the international series of races on May 15 and start his new job the following day.
His wife Lindy and four daughters will move a month later.
Following the final race at the Clarence River Jockey Club meeting on Saturday, May 7, the club will honour Zarb. Friends and associates are welcome.