Via Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
Veteran trainer Bruce Marsh bows out of Singapore this weekend as he sends out his last team of runners at the Friday and Sunday race meetings at Kranji.
The Kiwi handler brings down the curtain on a 14-year-long stint that has produced a haul of 416 winners since the first, perhaps one of the most auspicious account-opener ever witnessed in the annals of horse racing in Singapore – Hello And Goodbye landing the Group 1 Emirates Singapore Derby (2000m) under John Powell on July 17, 2005.
Marsh went on to notch a second Derby win with Race Ahead five years later, but the first one will be forever etched in the mind of the 69-year-old as his Hello to Singapore, and now it’s time to say Goodbye.
As sad as he is to leave, Marsh revealed he had actually overstayed his tenure more than once.
For a start, he came to Singapore in semi-retirement mode with an original objective of staying for five years before his son Stephen takes over at the helm.
It hasn’t quite worked out that way. It’s been a “retirement” that has been drawn out for 14 years with Marsh Jnr constantly putting off the takeover as he was doing so well as a trainer in his own right in New Zealand until he told his dad that he was not coming over at all.
Then, when Marsh’s eventual successor Jason Ong came on board as his assistant-trainer in 2016, the deal would be two years of transition, but again, Marsh could not hang up his binoculars for another year.
With Ong finally getting his trainer’s licence and the green light to start training in the last week or so, the former Melbourne Cup-winning jockey (Silver Knight in 1971) is homeward-bound for good this time.
Marsh did not quite reach the heights of a Laurie Laxon – incidentally the fellow Kiwi and good mate who was the one to push him to move to Singapore – or a Mark Walker at Kranji, probably because he was not blessed with the same firepower as those big guns, but the affable horseman still looks back at his achievements with immense pride.
“It’s been a marvellous ride. I came to Singapore thanks to Laurie and I certainly did not regret the move,” said Marsh.
“Laurie basically just told me there were boxes waiting for me, just get up here. I visited the place and the next thing I know Kay and myself moved here.
“Originally, it was meant to be a five-year-plan where Stephen would first take over my New Zealand stables of 40 horses. I sold my Woodville stables and they moved to Stephen’s new stables in Cambridge.
“The plan was to see how it goes in Singapore and Stephen would follow later. But then he started pre-training for clients to send horses to Hong Kong, started training for a big owner, another year went by, he kept postponing it until his stable has grown so big with 130 horses.
“Around five years ago, I knew he was not coming. He’s only 38 today and is going very well, it would’ve been silly of him to leave all that behind and come here.”
As it turned out, Marsh, a keen angler, didn’t mind one bit keeping his fishing rod and tack box in the cupboard of his New Zealand home for a “little while” longer.
“Mind you, Kay and I have stayed on under no sufferance. We’ve really enjoyed the lifestyle and we’ll really miss Singapore,” he said.
“The racing here has been so great, the structure of racing has been so good. In New Zealand we went to three to four meetings a week, we drove around 67,000kms in car every year.
“We’ve made some great friends here, and we’ve welcomed some lovely owners, of whom two stand out. Mr Cheah Kim Teck has been a long-standing owner from Day 1, he bought a horse called East Coast Express even before he met me, and Dato David Wilson of Street Legal fame.
“And how can I not mention Mr Lui, the owner of Hello And Goodbye. He disagreed with me that horse could win the Derby and in protest, decided not to wear a tie to the races.
“That was the only day he didn’t wear a tie to the races and Hello And Goodbye led all the way. That was my first Singapore win after 15 or 17 runners, it was wonderful, but unfortunately, the horse broke down two runs later.
“Gingerbread Man who made a clean sweep of the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge (in 2011) and Race Ahead winning the Derby (2010) and the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2010) were other great moments.
“What a bargain Race Ahead was. He was the only runner to have raced and won over 2000m in the QEII Cup, that made him my biggest certainty in a major race, and he won accordingly.
“I told (jockey) Opie (Bosson) he would be in the first three, don’t be scared to put the brakes down as he would outstay them and it went to plan.”
Given the universally fickle nature of horse racing, things didn’t always go to plan, though. Like any other trainer, Marsh had his fair share of disappointments as well, but the typically unflappable handler took them in his stride, which probably accounts for his longevity in the game.
“If there were any disappointments, they were few and far exceeded by the excitements. There were two disappointments that’ve been a bit harder to forget, though,” he said.
“The first one was when I told Mick Dittman of Lim’s Stable that Lim’s Prestige was a Derby horse, and the horse went on to win the Derby (2007) without me being the trainer. I won two Derbies, but it was still hard to cop.
“The other one was when Ian Middleton, the racing manager of Lincoln Farms, pulled all their horses out from my stables. Anyway, it’s all water under the bridge now.”
Marsh has now reached that bridge of no return he knew he had to cross one day, but preferably by leaving a legacy behind.
Ong walked in as the right guy in the right place at the right time. Marsh had to stay a little longer to mould the one marked to be his heir apparent, but he enjoyed watching his protégé come into his own.
“When Jason came to work for me, I agreed I would carry on training until he gets his licence,” said Marsh who brought up the last of his 15 ‘black type’ wins with Ong’s family’s War Affair who dead-heated with Storm Troops in the 2017 Group 3 Saas Fee Stakes (1400m) on May 14, 2017.
“Initially, we said two years, but it’s taken another year but that’s all right. In the last 12 months, he’s the one who’s been running the business anyway.
“Jason was doing everything while I was just overseeing things and changing a few things around, but not much. He made most of the decisions, the placing of horses and the training, he programmed them very well.
“When he was with Alwin Tan and Mark Walker, there was no room for him to really step up as they are younger trainers. Given my age, it made it easier for him to look at taking over.
“He’s already bringing horses in. He bought horses at yearlings and Ready-To-Run sales for a good mix of owners, some of mine who will stay and a few new ones.
“Jason will also carry on training most of my horses. It’s a good opportunity to get a stable which is already up and running as times are tougher these days.
“It’s a good start on the job as opposed to those who start from scratch. He will also inherit a wonderful staff whom I’ve built up over a few years, as well as the admin side.”
While Marsh heads back to New Zealand (on Tuesday) with the peace of mind his horses and owners will be left in good hands, he can’t wait to embark into that new chapter of his life in Cambridge.
“I will still be involved in racing. I’ll work part-time with Stephen, looking after his horses,” said Marsh who also has a daughter, Rachael.
“I’m also interested in the bloodstock side of racing and will be keen to buy horses for clients in Singapore.
“I don’t have any grandchildren yet, so I’ll have plenty of time to go fishing. I didn’t get the chance to do my favourite hobby here in Singapore, but there’ll be plenty of rivers and lakes back home.”
As Marsh looked around his soon-to-be old stable office, all the memorabilia of the feature winners he reeled in at Kranji have already been packed and shipped to New Zealand where they will join his trophies earned during his Woodville days, notably the Group 1 ARC Zabeel Classic in 2003 and New Zealand Derby in 2000 with the best horse he trained there, Hail.
But he can’t say “Marsh Out” yet as it’s still business as usual until his last day at the office this Sunday. On Friday, he saddles two runners, Nova Factor and Assassin and two days later, seven runners will carry the ‘RB Marsh’ (R for Rangi, his father’s name) name for one last time at Kranji – Our Showcase (owned by Cheah), Humdinger (owned by Wilson), Silver Joy, Dreamer Legend, Blitz Power, Uncle Lucky and his pet horse, Supernova.
“Supernova is a favourite of mine, probably my favourite horse in recent years,” said Marsh of the son of Elusive City who has always carried his Tudor Lodge Racing stable colours of red disc on white, green sleeves and red cap.
“He was no world-beater, but he’s such a trier. He’s now 11 and he’s won 11 races, including his first race back in 2012, which means he’s been with me over half of my time here.
“I’m hoping he can win, or any other horse for that matter. There is no real good thing in the line-up, they should all run good races, especially Sunday.
“I would just love to end on a winning note.”