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Golden ticket Khoo nearly left behind

Golden Eightyone is latest of local trainer’s 2022 New Zealand 2YO buys to win a race

After the auctioneer shouted “sold to Leslie Khoo” for the fourth time at the Karaka sale ring in November 2022, the veteran Singaporean trainer could have put his wallet away and called a cab.

Back at an overseas horse sale for the first time since the Covid-19 travel restrictions were lifted, Khoo had got really busy at the New Zealand Bloodstock 2022 Ready To Run Sale.

With two-year-old races set to return to Kranji in 2023, after a Covid-19 two-year break, Karaka was the obvious first place to go shopping for those “ready-made babies”.

Not to mention that the former top jockey has always been partial to New Zealand breeding, and two-year-olds, too.

He has never won any juvenile feature – or any local feature for that matter – but he enjoyed success with 2012 Aushorse Golden Horseshoe runner-up Easy Man, Yaya Papaya and Kubera’s Chief, to name a few.

Another crack could be on the cards with the four tickets he just bought for NZ$240,000 (S$200,000). The sale-topper was a son of Charm Spirit, accounting for half of the total bill at NZ$120,000.

Only Team Cheval’s Eric Koh had outdone Khoo among the Singapore buyers, with five buys for his Thai clients.

But, Khoo had dog-eared one earlier page on his catalogue book – Lot 28.

He did raise a bid or two for the son of Per Incanto, but the gelding was passed in after his reserve price of NZ$60,000 was not met.

Khoo had a quick chat with his New Zealand partner and pre-trainer Clint Isdale, looked at his wallet and decided to hold that taxi.

Some 15 months later, that “afterthought” purchase won his first race in Singapore as Golden Eightyone at his 10th start on Feb 24.

“I liked his conformation, but he was then passed in. Later on, I went back in and bought him at his reserve price of NZ$60,000,” said Khoo.

“That was not very expensive for a Per Incanto, a sire that I like a lot. He’s also the sire of Auspicious King, who also cost NZ$60,000.

“That day, I went to Karaka to buy young horses and also got Auspicious King, Big Max, Tennet Tentennet and Twinkle Twinkle.”

For various reasons, only Big Max, the Charm Spirit top buy made it for the two-year-old races. He is still a maiden, but Khoo has not written him off yet.

All is not lost for the others, though.

The three Group races making up the three-year-old series will be run for one final time at Singapore’s farewell season, though its nomenclature as the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge was dropped.

Khoo, whose only notable three-year-old in his 16 years at Kranji was arguably Lord O’Reilly (2018), was not getting too carried away, though.

From the big yards of his heyday, his string has been downsized to only 11 horses, with the Karaka quintet making up half of it.

While Auspicious King is his blue-eyed boy, his rating of only 49 puts things in perspective.

“Auspicious King is probably the best of the five, but he also needs to earn more points to make it for the three-year-old races,” said Khoo.

“I think this one (Golden Eightyone) will need to improve even further. His rating is still low, he will need to win more races.

“He’s no champion, but he’s done a good job today. He’s been working very well.

“I put the blinkers on as he looks around a lot. The longer, the better.”

Typical of some horses looking for further, Golden Eightyone ($38) – who is raced by new owner Ong Chwee Sing – looked dour when the pace quickened up in the $20,000 Maiden race (1,200m).

But first-time partner Marc Lerner’s hard graft from the 300m paid off. July (Koh Teck Huat) was being hailed the winner when he swept past favourite Pacific Dream (Benny Woodworth), but could not stave off the fast-closing Golden Eightyone.

“I asked Ryan Curatolo, his last jockey, to ride him but he said he had a better horse (Behind Player). So, Lerner got the chance, and he rode him well,” said Khoo.

Lerner, who seldom rides for Khoo, was certainly glad his fellow French colleague pulled the wrong rein.

“This horse has been consistent of late. The field was not very strong,” he said.

“The barrier (10) was against us but he showed enough speed to overcome it.

“I don’t often ride for Leslie but when he puts me on, it’s usually a good chance.”