Khoo keeps up with the pace
Kranji’s oldest trainer ends drought with Charismatic, will stick it out till Oct 5, 2024
A rare win put a spring back in veteran trainer Leslie Khoo’s step on Nov 18.
The doyen of Kranji’s 21 trainers, Khoo, who is four weeks shy of his 70th birthday, was even seen sprinting down like a colt towards the mounting yard to saddle his next runner, Tennet Tentennet.
The chestnut, whom Khoo also owns, came close to a yard double and 2023 win No. 8, but had to settle for a career-best third place in a maiden race.
“He’s still immature but he’s not without ability,” said Khoo of the horse, whose kooky name, he explains, is an onomatopoeia from catchy dance tune How Gee.
“I told (Mohd) Zaki to ride him handier and not hold him back. I hope he can win a race soon.”
But, Khoo was still happy to make do with one win – from $128 long shot Charismatic breaking her maiden tag in the $30,000 Class 5 race (1,200m).
For any trainer, 118 days is a long time between drinks. Khoo’s last win came from another mare of his, Delilah, on July 23.
Khoo was thirsty, but he has also managed expectations, especially in the later post-Covid years.
“It was a lucky break today, but to be fair, I haven’t had many entries – two to three a week,” he said.
Things have not always been that quiet, though.
In his 16 years at Kranji, Khoo has admittedly never been premiership material – save for 2011, when he pushed eventual champion Patrick Shaw to the wire.
With no top-drawer horses having gone through his barn either – except maybe for 2015 Singapore Gold Cup runner-up Fastnet Dragon – his trophy cabinet to this day is, without surprise, still empty.
He did, however, win a couple of feature races during his tenure in Malaysia from 2001 to 2008.
But the congenial horseman has actually stamped himself as one of the more competitive locals for a number of years.
Six Top 10 finishes (four, consecutively from 2010 to 2013) were a testament to the former top jockey’s training chops, given the average tools at his disposal.
The last uptick in winners was in 2018, when he finished ninth overall on 38 winners, and top local handler.
It has been downhill since. The pandemic was the last straw.
With the clock ticking until racing disappears on Oct 5, 2024, Khoo is just taking his medicine.
After he retired most of the older stock, he is left with only 15 horses – a string bound to shrink further, now that horse buys have ended.
To Khoo, every win added to his Kranji score of 470 is a bonus. The 500 milestone is unlikely, but he will go the distance, nonetheless.
“I’ll just carry on with what I’ve got, no choice. Hopefully, I’ll stay till the end,” said Khoo.
He was grateful for the handful of owners who have stuck with him through thick and thin, like Charismatic’s Cat Racing Stable.
“They bought this mare with no high expectations. She had three unplaced runs in Victoria,” he said.
“From Day 1, she’s always shown speed, though. She ran her two best races when she led and finished second.
“But her form dropped at her last few runs. We found out she had a low blood count.
“She also has some wind problems. She makes some noise.
“But her blood count had improved and I thought she could get back to her best form today.
“She’s had many bad barriers but she drew one today. I told Harry (A’Isisuhairi Kasim) she must go forward and lead from that gate.”
The Malaysian jockey had partnered the Wandjina four-year-old at her last three starts, twice from double-digit barriers.
On Nov 18, they jumped for the first time from a low draw – the pole position.
“Everything was in her favour today, the barrier. Leslie told me to be positive from the gate, and nothing took her on,” he said.
“I got her nicely balanced, and even gave her a good breather. She’s no superstar, but she can run if you help her out.
“In the last 200m, I was worried she would not hold on, but she kept going.
“In the last 50 to 80m, I actually knew she would win.”