Coming up Roses 34 years later
Kranji’s new No. 1 trainer Fitzsimmons’ racing passion sparked by Empire Rose
When Empire Rose won the Melbourne Cup in 1988, a young Essendon boy had his ears glued to the radio, screaming himself hoarse.
From a field of 22, the precocious racing fan had picked the giant Kiwi mare as the winner.
He was not among the crowd of 93,440 trackside, but he cheered right up to her rapturous welcome through the famous Flemington arch into the mounting yard, led in by a certain Laurie Laxon.
Little could he have then guessed how the destiny of that legend of New Zealand racing would become intertwined with his in a faraway island in South-east Asia one day.
Not only their paths crossed in Singapore 18 years later but, more amazingly, he would emulate the same feat the late maestro pulled off nine times as one of Singapore’s most successful trainers of all time – winning the supreme Kranji title.
That little boy was Tim Fitzsimmons, Singapore’s newly minted champion trainer for 2022.
Even though the starry-eyed kid did not hail from a horse racing family like Laxon, he grew up to become a trainer himself.
On Nov 26, at his fourth year helming his own yard, he joined the Kranji trainers’ honour roll.
Fitzsimmons finished tops on 65 winners, six clear of Kiwi woman trainer Donna Logan.
“I didn’t set out to become champion trainer. To be honest, it was only when I had three good weeks six weeks ago that I thought I had an opportunity, and it would be nice to win it,” said Fitzsimmons, the only one among four brothers to work in racing.
“I will look back and tell my children I’ve made it at a club with a history of over 180 years.
“Mum and dad are so proud. They aren’t from racing, I went to school in the city but they supported my decision.
“Only four of the 23 trainers here have won the premiership – Michael Clements, Steven Burridge, Alwin Tan and myself.
“It’s so hard to win, and Laurie’s won nine. When I first arrived in 2007, he was the champion and he won five more.
“He was already a hero of mine as a kid. I was seven when he won the Melbourne Cup with Empire Rose.
“It was one of my first racing memories that gave me that initial interest in racing.
“It’s incredible that I would then meet Laurie in Singapore years later – and now I’ve become a Singapore champion trainer like him.
“Funny how I had to look for Singapore on a map before I came up. I didn’t even have a passport.
“I came only for a year but I just ticked 15 years here last week.
“So, this is massive and I’ll always remember that. You couldn’t say if you might win it again, but you never know, right?”
As much as Empire Rose’s triumph on that first Tuesday in November was a moment of epiphany, that training gig has not always been a bed of roses.
“We’ve also been through tough times. I started from nothing, I didn’t even have a head collar,” said Fitzsimmons, who flew to Koh Samui for a family holiday after the last meeting on Nov 26.
“I had to build a stable around 20 horses. I did okay, but it was tough.
“Without my family, I couldn’t have kept things going, especially without my wife Joan’s support.”
At his first two years, Fitzsimmons had not much firepower.
He may have been a major cog in the wheel of successful Australian trainer Cliff Brown’s yard between 2008 and 2019, but it can suddenly be a lonely place when branching out on your own.
Brown was his mentor and friend but, arguably, the biggest leg-up he gave his former protege was after he left Kranji in 2021.
He sent 25 horses to his yard but the real bull run came from his staunchest ally, the Buffalo Stable.
“Peter Lee and his partners were lucky when they bought a few horses Cliff was looking to sell like Intrepid, Illustrious, Resolute,” said Fitzsimmons.
“We work really well together. Peter has high expectations, he wants results but he helps me, too.
“They’ve had the most winners for me this year – 23. They’re also keen on a Group horse, hence they’ve bought a lot of new horses.
“But I’m also thankful to Gold and Barree Stables, which just became partners, and AJ Stable.
“Jig Racing has also been great bringing quality tried horses into the stable.
“With the new feature races next year, my owners have bought two yearlings and six two-year-olds.
“I was lucky to win three Group races but I went close with placings in a few Group 1s. I’d really like to win a first Group 1 race.”