Via Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
If not for the odd thud of a cranky horse kicking into the wall, you wouldn’t have guessed Block 111 is a racing stable.
The uncluttered aisle, the bright and white walls, the smell of a fresh lick of paint, and floors so clean you could eat off them are just some of the giveaways it’s either a just-vacated racing stable or one that is waiting for new occupants.
But as you peep into the boxes, you realise five of them (40 altogether) aren’t empty. Two syces are busy icing one racehorse whose coat is still steaming from his morning hit-out – a telltale sign of racing activity, even if it’s not yet a hive thereof.
Tim Fitzsimmons is Singapore’s most-recently licensed trainer and the new tenant of a refurbished Block 111, previously the stabling block of Leticia Dragon.
As the bearded Australian 38-year-old stands at the top of the laneway, scanning his new workplace, he looks overcome with the same trepidation and excitement he felt when he left Melbourne for Singapore as new Kranji trainer Cliff Brown’s right-hand man 12 years ago, hotwalking only one horse, Liang Kee, every day, wondering when and if another horse would walk in the next day.
Fitzsimmons wouldn’t have said ‘no, thank you’ to a barnful of ready-made horses to hit the ground running. It just makes life so much easier, but it would appear that starting from scratch comes with a different set of challenges that has been driving the newbie forward since he got his boxes in April and subsequently moved into his new digs on August 1.
“It’s very exciting, I haven’t taken over a stable, I had to start from scratch, it takes time to build up,” said Fitzsimmons.
“I have the advantage of having been here for a long time. I know the system, not just the racing side, but also the administrative side with staff, Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the owners, etc.
“I personally think that by starting from the ground up, you can only build up your own business. I’ve been through the tough times and I think I’m better prepared for them if it happens.
“But I’ve still been able to buy some tried and trialled horses privately in Australia, and with the help of some owners, I’ve been able to slowly get some horses in.
“The stable is building up nicely, I’ve got 12 now, one is in quarantine, another five or six heading into quarantine and I’m looking to buy some two-year-olds at the next Ready-To-Run sales.
“I hope to be over half-full capacity by December, and then hopefully not too long into the new year, we can get close to full capacity.”
While setting up the groundwork has been a long and arduous journey, Fitzsimmons is optimistic the days ahead will be better. One milestone which will definitely be etched in his mind will be the first horse to run under his name, either next week or the week after.
Petite Voix, a former three-time winner from trainer Lee Freedman, is likely to be his inaugural runner while Elite Silverghost, formerly with Brown, is also not far off his Kranji debut.
The signs of an imminent first Fitzsimmons runner carded at a Kranji meeting were unmistakable at this week’s barrier trials when Elite Silverghost trialled on Wednesday with A’Isisuhairi Kasim up, while Petite Voix trialled the next day, ridden by Brown’s stable jockey Michael Rodd.
While those two are not a patch on the champions like Debt Collector or Gilt Complex he worked with alongside Brown and racing manager Chris Bock, he has a sparkle in his eyes just getting them under starter’s orders.
“I’ll see how Petite Voix pulls up after today’s trial. I’ll enter her in a Class 4, 1200m next Sunday,” said Fitzsimmons.
“We’ll decide in the next couple of days, if not, the week after. We also had another horse trial yesterday, Elite Silverghost, he will trial again next week and will look to run the week after that, all going well.”
Fitzsimmons has not locked away any particular jockey he would use more often, but all seems to point towards the likes of Rodd, A’Isisuhairi, Daniel Moor for a start.
“I’ll use the best available, there is no stable jockey,” he said.
“For now, Roddy helps me out with trackwork a lot and so do Harry and Daniel.
“I’ve got some good staff, slowly building up. I’ll have more as my team of horses grows, and I might also get an assistant-trainer from Australia in due course.
“As for owners, I’m looking for new owners all the time, especially new owners who haven’t had racehorses before. The important thing is to try and get more people involved in Singapore.
“The Singapore Turf Club’s idea of launching a syndication system is very exciting. Everything will be handled by the Club instead of one racing manager, and that should give more people the chance to buy a share into a racehorse.
“Currently, I have a good mix of local and overseas owners. Among the existing owners from my time with Cliffy, the Buffalo Stable are great supporters of mine, and also the Elite Performance Stable and the Gold Stable, while Nick Johnston (of Laughing Gravy and Cracking Tottie fame) hasn’t bought one yet, but he’s trying to find one for me.”
Networking with such people throughout his years as assistant-trainer has certainly come in handy today, but nothing comes close to the training legacy from the man who brought him to Singapore and he helped saddle around 500 winners all-up.
“I’m so grateful to Cliff. I can’t thank him enough for continuing to recommend me and pushing for me to get my trainer’s licence,” said Fitzsimmons who became assistant-trainer to Brown in March 2014.
“I wouldn’t have done it without him. I was lucky enough to have worked for Cliff for 12 years and to have learned from the best.
“He’s also been a great mentor and friend to me and continues to be, not just with work-related issues but also for his personal guidance and I will forever be grateful.”
So, will Kranji see the underling become some sort of a clone of his master’s, or will he spread his wings and paddle his own canoe?
“I have a blueprint and I’ll just have to follow it. But I’ll also be my own man, change a few things, but I won’t be changing a lot because I know what works here,” said Fitzsimmons who boasts other big names from the Australian racing industry as mentors before Brown, namely Bart Cummings, Lloyd Williams, Greg Eurell and Jim Conlan.
“The process of getting my licence probably started two and a half years ago but I’ve been working towards this for 20 years. This was the aim of all the blood, sweat and tears.
“Probably after a couple of years I’ve been here, I knew this is where I wanted to train. If it hadn’t worked out, I could have looked to training at home, but I’m so glad I can train here.
“For a trainer, it’s probably the best place in the world to train. I’d like to thank Alan Ow (Vice President of Racing) and the whole Singapore Turf Club for their support and confidence in me and in giving me a licence. It’s great for the Club to give me the opportunity.
“I’d also like to thank my family, my mother and father, my wife Joan and my children, JJ, Joyce and Julian, I couldn’t have done it without their support.
“I got into racing when I was 17, and I’m not from a racing background. So, for my mum and dad, it was a little bit strange, but after 20 years of hard work, I’m finally where I want to be.
“I’m really excited about the future of the Singapore Turf Club. The Club is heading in the right direction and I’m so glad to be part of it.”