De­mand from Singapore own­ers a thrill for Kiwi

Matamata Chronicle - - Sport -

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.

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