Demand from Singapore owners a thrill for Kiwi
Relocation to Singapore has made little difference to Mark Walker’s winning ways.
Back home to attend this week’s National Yearling Sale at Karaka, the former leading New Zealand trainer has good reason to be satisfied with his progress since setting up an offshore base for Te Akau Racing five months ago.
Mark signed off his New Zealand trainer’s licence with an all-time record of 108 wins in the 2009-10 season.
From just a handful of runners in the closing months of the calendar year season in Singapore, he saddled up three winners as well as taking second place in the Singapore Gold Cup with former New Zealand stable star Tell A Tale.
Starting off at level pegging for the new season, things have just got better. At the end of the first month Mark finds himself in second place on the trainers’ premiership with eight wins from just 34 starters.
The only better performer among the 27 trainers based at the Singapore Turf Club’s Kranji headquarters is another expatriate, Laurie Laxon, who has dominated the Singapore ranks over the past decade and has 11 wins from 61 runners.
‘‘I really couldn’t have wished for a better start,’’ Mark said when the Chronicle caught up with him during the opening session of the Karaka sales.
‘‘It’s been a big change but the first thing that surprised me was the way the first batch we sent up there settled in.
‘‘Getting two wins and a second on Singapore Gold Cup day was a big confidence boost and the first month of the new season has been just brilliant.
‘‘What with the horses that have come up from New Zealand and other locally-owned horses that we’ve picked up, I’ve filled my original allocation of 43 boxes. I’ve applied for some more to hopefully take the stable up to the maximum of 60 allowed up there.’’
Mark has already encountered a problem that any trainer would wish for – a queue of prospective owners who have quickly taken notice of the newcomer’s propensity for winning.
‘‘With the way the stable’s been firing Singapore owners are banging the door down,’’ Mark said. ‘‘There’s no way we can take them all as I still need to leave enough room to keep our New Zealand owners happy.
‘‘It’s matter of picking and choosing and trying to be as fair as possible to everyone.’’
A number of New Zealand clients have already taken the opportunity to travel up to Singapore to see their horses race, which is all part of Te Akau’s move to go international.
‘‘Singapore is a good place to live or visit and it’s been great to see the way that so many of our owners have already made it up to check out the set-up and go racing. It’s a bonus to get a win when your owners are on hand.’’
Laurie Laxon, well known for successes that included the 1988 Melbourne Cup with Empire Rose, has been of immense assistance to Mark in getting to grips with the Singapore scene.
‘‘Laurie’s been kicking goals in Singapore for more than a decade and has been a huge help the way he’s shown me the ropes. I’m quite happy to be running second to him on the premiership.’’
The past month has also been a landmark period in the development of Te Akau’s Malaysian-born apprentice Rusof ‘‘Saffy’’ Shafiq, who returned to familiar territory when Mark made his move last September.
As well as his role as a working member of the Te Akau staff, Shafiq has acted as an interpreter for Mark and is now hitting his straps as race riding opportunities have opened up. From 19 rides in the past month he has put together three wins and five minor placings to share the lead on the apprentice premiership.
‘‘It’s been very satisfying to see the way Saffy has developed lately,’’ said his boss. ‘‘He’s really matured and the success he’s been having is thoroughly deserved.’’
Gus Clutterbuck, who was an integral part of Te Akau’s New Zealand operation as manager of the Rangiora satellite stable, has joined Mark as foreman in Singapore, while Mark’s wife Julia, who has held senior executive positions with New Zealand Bloodstock and New Zealand Thoroughbred Marketing, is now managing in the administrative side of the Kranji operation.
‘‘Julia is running the Singapore office and it’s great having her involved. That’s her strength and she’s an important part of the whole operation.
‘‘Now that we’ve got off to such a strong start we have to keep delivering but I’m confident that we can, so it’s an exciting year ahead of us.’’
Success for the second time in three years in the Karaka Million, the prelude to the National Sale at Ellerslie on Sunday evening, eluded Matamata trainer Peter McKay by a mere nose.
Peter, his wife Kim and Christchurch associate Trevor Luke won the inaugural Karaka Million in 2008 with Vincent Mangano. This year they had the highest rated juvenile, Antonio Lombardo, shooting for the $550,500 winner’s share of the $1 million stake but were beaten on the line by Manawatu longshot Fort Lincoln.
The best of John Sargent’s Karaka Million trio was Super Easy, which took fourth place ahead of his stablemate Savabill, while the Jason Price-trained filly Queen Boudicca was sixth.
The Sargent stable gained worthwhile consolation when last season’s third placegetter won the $200,000 New Zealand Bloodstock Insurance Karaka 3YO Mile. It was no ordinary win by last season’s champion two-year-old, which swept past the field from nearly last on the turn and simply outclass her opposition.
Banchee has taken time to replicate her juvenile form but, now that she’s there, she is likely to be given her chance over a middle-distance. That could well mean a clash with the Jason Bridgman-trained King’s Rose in the Sir Tristram Fillies’ Classic at Te Rapa on Saturday week.