Fairy-tale end for 13yo Flak Jacket
Old marvel’s win at final race a rare ray of sunshine as Baertschiger’s career nears end
With only a couple of race meetings left before Shane Baertschiger turns off the switch at his Kranji stables – after 30 years of training in Malaysia and Singapore – any chance of one last feelgood factor felt like a stretch.
It is a pun fully intended for the tall Australian trainer who is called by his first name, interchangeably with his nickname Stretch.
The 50-year-old horseman will sadly saddle up his last runner on Dec 17, at the penultimate meeting of the 2023 season.
He once ran a formidable powerhouse operating at almost full capacity (60 horses) with marquee names like 2019 Singapore Horse of the Year I’m Incredible, Aramco, Aramaayo and Faaltless.
But, these days, Baertschiger is just going through the motions at just about one-third that strength.
In wind-up mode after he decided to close shop before Christmas, one winner or two would ensure the stockings are not left empty.
But, from the way he could not wipe the smile off his face as he greeted his 516th winner on Dec 2, one could have thought it was the same old thrill he felt at his 19 Group successes.
He saddled his first winner as a full-fledged trainer on March 2, 2012, with Reddy To Rock.
Flak Jacket’s victory – his ninth for $690,000 in prize money – came in only a modest $30,000 Class 5 Division 2 race (1,100m).
But, if none of Baertschiger’s horses emulates the Dane Shadow 13-year-old in the next two meetings (Dec 9 and 17), he could not have dreamt up a more symbolic last winner.
Going into his 111th start – win, lose or draw – the old warrior was, just like his trainer, calling it a day.
The fairy-tale ending was a distinct possibility, despite his advanced age, against nine much younger rivals.
A closing third at his previous start, he was this time down in class, albeit shouldering the top impost of 59kg.
The late scratching of favourite Pacific Charm also shortened his odds to $21.
Flak Jacket is obviously not the sort to watch the others have all the fun at his retirement party.
Defying his ageing legs, he pinned his ears back under Matthew Kellady’s vigorous riding as he went on to give Golden Way (Ronnie Stewart) – a horse who is half his age – one last galloping lesson in winning races.
“That was his last run, he’s retiring,” said Baertschiger.
“He’s always run in Class 5 Division 1, but this is the first time he got into Division 2. When the favourite came out, I was even more confident.
“Flak Jacket’s legs are 100 per cent sound. He never had any issues, he’s never been to the vet.”
A hale and hearty horse is every trainer’s wish, longevity a bonus.
Ironically, in Flak Jacket’s case, his good health has worked against him in his final choice of pasture.
“I wanted to send him back to Australia where he’d be close to my new home in Botanic Ridge. We could then see him at the farm, bring him some carrots,” said Baertschiger, who departs Singapore on Jan 15.
“But I couldn’t get the $12,000 subsidy for relocating him before Oct 5, 2024 (closing date of Singapore racing) unless he’s broken down.
“It costs $25,000 all-up to ship a horse to Australia. With the $16,000 stakes he made from Saturday’s win, I could have topped up the difference.
“I’m very disappointed. I had no other choice but to send him to Johor Bahru instead, at the Leisure Farm, along with Preditor.”
Preditor, the 2018 Group 3 Jumbo Jet Trophy winner, is another senior citizen from Baertschiger’s geriatric ward.
The 11-year-old son of Savabeel also had his ultimate start on Dec 2, but unlike his older stablemate, was unable to improve on his record of seven wins from 77 starts.
Truth be told, not having Flak Jacket and Preditor in his backyard is not the only reason why Baertschiger is leaving Singapore with a heavy heart.
The name of German origin has been part of the local racing landscape, since Baertschiger arrived in Kuala Lumpur from Melbourne in 1993 as a fresh-faced 20-year-old to assist his father Don at their new South-east Asian gig.
Father and son enjoyed many triumphs together with Con Air, Super Goldluck, Capablanca, to name a few.
It was a no-brainer that Shane, who effortlessly switches between English and Singlish, would take over when Don returned to Australia in 2012.
But never could he have guessed he would one day outlive the workplace in a country he has called home, and where he started his Singaporean family – wife Veyonna and daughters, Paige, 20, Ally, 17, and Jade, 15.
“With my three girls still schooling, I had no other option but to leave. The eldest Paige studies in Poly here, but I’ve already found schools for all of them in Melbourne,” he said.
“I came here when I was 20 and spent six years in KL before moving to Singapore in 1999. Training horses is in my blood, but what happened here has made me go off racing.
“I’m not interested to work in racing in Australia. I’ll just be unemployed.”