Laxon ends Kranji adventure
After 17 years, veteran trainer will head back to New Zealand
The Big 10 will, in the end, not happen for nine-time Singapore champion trainer Laurie Laxon. The veteran handler is pulling up stumps and returning to his native New Zealand to continue his illustrious training career.
The 71-year-old (right) dropped the bombshell yesterday, saying the current Singapore season is likely to be his last.
WON IT ALL
The man who has won all the feature races at Kranji since relocating in 2000 bar the two international races - now discontinued - has not set a date for his farewell, but is tentatively looking at September.
For the moment, it is business as usual for the master trainer, who still has around 45 horses on his books. In his heyday, it used to be as many as 100.
However, Laxon did not attribute the drop in numbers and wins (he currently sits in 11th spot on 17 winners) to his sudden decision to leave.
Rather, it was the fact that his goal to annex a 10th premiership title after his last one in 2014 was starting to slip through his fingers. He was fourth in 2015 and eighth last year.
For him, it was just the right time to leave Singapore when he was still healthy, and he will always look back at the last 17 years with great fondness.
"It's been a wonderful experience, but it's time to go, while I'm still healthy. I've won nine champion trainer titles, won every feature race there except for the SIA Cup and the KrisFlyer - I've done it all," said the horseman, who was the third generation in his family to train horses and who, in February last year, was inducted into the New Zealand racing Hall Of Fame.
"I still remember my beginnings here. George Simon, who was then the race caller at Kranji, rang me up and asked me if I wanted to train in Singapore.
"At first, I wasn't so keen, as I didn't want to travel up to Ipoh or Penang, but he told me Singapore was a standalone meeting then. I discussed with my wife Sheila and, as I was going to the Darwin Cup to run St Clair on the first Monday of August, I decided to fly a little further up north to have a look around after the Cup.
"The place looked great, I had to think about it but, in the end, I went for it. Things got off to a slow start, though. I had only 25 horses in my first full season and saddled 16 winners. I was told my occupancy rate was too low.
"I actually had six new horses, but I didn't want to run them as it would not have much impact halfway through the season against the likes of Charles Leck or Malcolm Thwaites.
"So, I raced them the next year, had another eight in February and, by May and June, I had 100 horses! I had to send some to Bukit Timah. Things just snowballed from there.
"I finished second in the premiership the next year (2001), second again in 2002, then third in 2003 - and then I won the next six in a row (he then lost out to Steven Burridge and Patrick Shaw in 2010 and 2011 respectively before winning the next three).
"I've been lucky to have very good owners throughout these 17 years and, rest assured, I am working with the Singapore Turf Club and other trainers to make sure they have good alternatives for their horses."
Laxon will for now look at padding up his current score of 1,249 winners until he begins a new chapter to his successful career. Once his Singapore licence is relinquished, he will return to New Zealand to train for his good friend Sir Peter Vela from his Maungatautari farm in Waikato.
Whether the legendary trainer will unearth another champion like Empire Rose - his Melbourne Cup winner in 1988 - at his original backyard, remains to be seen, but he is excited with the new venture.
"Seven Melbourne Cup runners came out from there. Two won (Empire Rose and Ethereal - trained by his wife Sheila) and two ran second (Empire Rose and Champagne), so it's not bad at all," he said.
"I will still own horses with CK (Chian Kin) Phua (Oscar Racing) in Singapore, and I will fly over very often. So, this is not a goodbye to Singapore."
When asked if he had any regrets, Laxon said he had none.
"I've enjoyed my time in Singapore and I'd like to thank the Singapore Turf Club and Mr Soong Tze Ming (Chief Operating Officer) for giving me the opportunity to do this. I've had a great time in Singapore and I'm very proud of what I achieved."