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Keeping the Spirit alive until the end

Nothing lasts Forever, but trainer Kuah will keep chipping away with his small team

The last race on his file dates back to May 5, 2019. But, surprisingly, dual-Group winner Forever Young only just left trainer Kuah Cheng Tee’s stable.

Kuah had been at the receiving end of harmless banter about the 10-year-old trying to live up to his name.

Once in a while, the US-bred was even spotted cantering around Kranji in his purple saddlecloth, conferred only to Group-winner royalty.

But the 2017 Group 1 Singapore Guineas and 2017 Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy winner was never on the comeback trail.

Kuah just found it hard to part with the horse who put him on the map at just his second year of training at Kranji.

All good things must come to an end, though. Forever Young has found a new home at a riding school in Johor Bahru.

“He was my champion, the horse who made me as a trainer. I had to look after him when he retired,” said Kuah, a former jockey.

“He’s actually never left the stables after his last race here (unplaced in the Group 3 Moonbeam Vase won by Elite Excalibur).

“The horse was always healthy. When he got a bit naughty, my track rider would take him out for a canter or I would take him for a swim.

“But, with racing closing soon (Oct 5), we had to find a place. Luckily, one of my track riders found him a spot in JB.

“He left two weeks ago. He’ll become a pony for the kids there.”

A staunch supporter of Kuah’s from Day 1, Hong Kong owner Wong Chi Tat gave his blessing to Forever Young’s retirement plans the whole time.

He may have actually played a part in saving Kuah himself from an early retirement.

Of Kuah’s remaining eight horses (all US breds), three of them race in Wong’s distinctive yellow, red and green silks – with one of them a live chance on March 2, Lion Spirit.

“When the news came racing was closing, Mr Wong spoke with me and told me he wants to race his horses till the end,” said Kuah.

“He’s always been very supportive. If not for him, I would have only five horses left, which would make it even harder to stay on.

“It’s still financially tough, especially as the other five horses are all mine. But we’re in it because we love racing and the horses.”

Many may have thrown in the towel with such a skeleton team to work on, with Oppa just leaving him for trainer Alwin Tan the latest straw.

But the 48-year-old, who still rides work, is spurred on by his paradoxically upbeat results at Singapore racing’s last chapter.

From only 23 starters, two of them have got on the board, the latest being Ciango ($51) in the opening Class 5 event on Feb 24.

“I thought Ciango would run a good race. I gave him some chance as he was down in grade,” he said.

“He’s had some issues with his feet, he had sore heels. But he’s over them now. He didn’t run so badly at his last two starts. He was only beaten around six lengths.

“Last week, I just told Clyde Leck to ride him quiet wherever he was comfortable.”

The 2022 Malaysian junior-senior champion jockey made a low-key start to his Singapore stint in 2023, but seems to have grown in confidence at his sophomore year.

On three wins, he is already sitting third on the apprentice log, right on the heels of reigning champion Jerlyn Seow and Jamil Sarwi.

Clearly a fan, Kuah has booked Leck on Lion Spirit – and not because of just one winning ride.

“I used to ride for Clyde’s father Charles, it’s my turn to support his son,” he said.

“Give him the right horse, he can win races. What I like about him is he follows instructions.

“If Clyde can ride Lion Spirit properly, he sure has some chance. But no horse should ‘kacau’ (Malay for disturb) him either.

“He has maintained his form. He will again run in a 1,600m on Poly – like at his last (Feb 17) when he also met the same horses (the winner Roda Robot, Mesmerizing and Red Dragon).

“Last Samurai also has a good chance in the last race. He has a good draw and the apprentice (Faiz Khair) claim of 4kg.”