By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
Iskandar Rosman’s “big boss” won’t be around for him very soon, but Lee Freedman’s legacy on the young Malaysian has certainly put him in good stead for his riding future at Kranji.
A brilliant race-to-race double on Saturday courtesy of Freedman’s and King Power Stable’s My Big Boss and Augustano bore testament to the extra polish Iskandar has picked up from Freedman, as well as former Singapore Turf Club riding coach Matthew Pumpa and current interim coach Damien Kinninmont in recent months.
Freedman announced in December he was returning home in March to set up a stable on the Gold Coast. Just like his horses who will be dispersed among existing trainers at Kranji, his only apprentice jockey will also move elsewhere, trainer Young Keah Yong to be precise, on February 15.
Better known to his peers as Syafiq, Iskandar would be flushed with pride had he heard the Australian Hall of Fame trainer lavishing praise on him.
“After COVID-19, he returned from Johor Bahru and he had somewhat come back with a change of attitude,” said Freedman.
“His attitude towards work was fantastic, he wanted to do everything at the stable, but I think with the assistance of Matt Pumpa, he has also improved enormously.
“For a start, he is a lot more aware of what he’s doing in a race, he’s more race aware. He also has a fantastic seat, which is as good as any lightweight senior jockey here, and as you know, being a lightweight jockey is a big asset here.
“I’m very proud of him as he actually started his career with me, but all the credit should go to him because he made his own decision to make a good fist of it.
“KY Young and myself have been his biggest supporters. I hope the rest of the crew give him more rides from now on.
“I actually just spoke to the Stewards about how much he’s improved. I’ll definitely keep an eye on his progress even after I leave as I think he can keep going to the top.”
While Freedman was referring to potentially the highest echelon of the riding ranks, the 26-year-old has for now shot to the top of the apprentice jockeys’ premiership after his quickfire double aboard two relatively unfancied runners.
He is now tied with current leader Hakim Kamaruddin (winless on Saturday) on five winners, albeit back in second place on a countback for seconds.
Iskandar first drove My Big Boss ($31) home to a cliffhanger of a win in the $50,000 Class 4 race over the Polytrack 1200m. The double was achieved in contrasting style through a well-judged frontrunning ride on Augustano ($78) in the highlight of the day, the $70,000 Class 3 race over 1400m.
While chuffed with his current hot form, Iskandar’s celebration seemed somewhat tinged with sadness as he unsaddled from Augustano, the Hard Spun six-year-old who was at his ninth win for Freedman and his Thai owners.
“I’m very sad Mr Freedman is leaving, but there’s nothing I can do about that,” said Iskandar who began his fledgling riding career with Freedman in mid-2018, riding his first winner Tesoro Privado for him on August 10 that year.
“He has taught me many things, but mainly how not to get caught three to four wide. He showed me how important it is to study form before a race.
“Getting a good position is also important, but that depends on the type of horse you ride. He’s been a very good teacher to me, but I’m now looking forward to my new experience with KY Young as my new master.
“The stable is not as big but Mr Young has some nice horse and he’s always supported me.”
Augustano (Iskandar Rosman) makes all in the Class 3 race over seven furlongs.
From his total tally of 28 winners, nine of them have hailed from the Singaporean handler, including three aboard My Dreamliner.
While Pumpa is not around anymore after he returned to Australia in November, Kinninmont was on hand to give the young man a pat on the back as he weighed back in.
The Perth horseman, whose main duty remains that of the Club chief starter, deflected most of the credit to Pumpa, who he said, spent the most time with Iskandar, but at the same time, the rider’s determination to bounce back from a leg injury was a turning point.
“Iskandar’s shown a lot of promise from Day 1, but his career was interrupted when he broke his leg,” said Kinninmont.
“Pumps spent 18 months with him full-time, and Iskandar has advanced a lot. He’s riding really well at the moment, and we even get people from overseas who commented how polished he is now.”
Saturday’s brace showcased that, but the humble Iskandar was not getting swell-headed, saying that he just tried to apply his master’s instructions to the letter on both winning rides.
“I tried to jump and get a good position on My Big Boss at the back. I know he’s a horse who likes to come to the outside, which I also saw when I watched his (three) wins with JP (Juan Paul van der Merwe),” he said.
“Boss also told me the same thing and that he has a short sprint, and to wait as long as I can before pushing the button. In the last 200m, I could feel him finishing strongly and in the last 100m, I knew he could win.
“As for Augustano, I know him better as I’ve ridden him many times, unlike My Big Boss, but today is my first win on him. At his last race (1200m race on January 16 when he ran on for fourth to Sacred Croix), he had no luck, he was wide.
“Today he surprised me as he’s not a 1400m horse (ran over that trip only once in 34 previous starts for an unplaced finish). Still, there’s only one way to ride this horse, go in front.
“The horses were coming in fast, I could feel them, but my horse still had enough power to go all the way.”
As Freedman winds up his Singapore training operations, those last two wins have taken his overall Singapore tally to 161 winners as well as helped him leapfrog over as many as 10 trainers to sit in second position on four winners to reigning champion Michael Clements (who scored a hat-trick of wins on Saturday) who has already notched up eight winners.
Not that it makes any difference now that he’s leaving, though the windfall can certainly help chip in towards defraying the relocation costs.
Both King Power stalwarts have been handy moneyspinners for the 2018 Singapore champion trainer with Augustano the more prolific on nine wins from 35 starts for close to $470,000 in stakes earnings while My Big Boss has five wins on the board from 30 starts for prizemoney totalling around $260,000, a feat not lost on Freedman at their farewell runs for him.
“Both walk out to another stable on Monday, not sure where to just yet. I’m glad they won at their last runs for me,” he said.
“King Power has been a great supporter of mine. Augustano has been fantastic with nine wins while My Big Boss was also good with five wins. I’m not sure where the other horses like Minister go either, but it’s been a pleasure training their horses.
“Right now, I’m just busy with sorting out where the horses go and tying up the loose ends. We’re booked to leave (with partner Jo Johnson) on the first week of March; I’ve got plans around that time, so I hope to get all the accounts up-to-date before then.
“I wanted to come to the races today, but I couldn’t make it in the end. I’ll definitely be at the races next Saturday as I need to be there for Andre Lim who’s got Super Invincible running.”
Among his key personnel, Japanese stable supervisor Chi Iizuka, who has been Freedman’s indefatigable right-hand woman doubling up as a track rider and personal assistant, often filling in for her boss at the races when he can’t make it, will be moving to trainer Mark Walker.