Onwards and upwards with Singapore racing for Clements

South Of The River (Wong Chin Chuen) is aiming for three-in-a-row on Saturday. Photo: STC
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By Larry Foley, Singapore Turf Club

Trainer Michael Clements wears two hats with pride in the Singapore racing scene.

His trainer hat is well worn with the former Zimbabwean champion being the longest-serving trainer still plying his trade in Singapore after setting up stables back in 1998 at the old Bukit Timah racecourse.

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Clements was crowned Singapore champion trainer in 2020 and Prosperous Return added yet another Group 1 to his impressive CV after he won the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (1800m) on October 15.

The quietly-spoken the Zimbabwe-born naturalised Singaporean is also the president of the Association of Racehorse Trainers, Singapore (ARTS) – a position he has held since 2012 – and that hat sits a little more comfortably after significant announcements by the Singapore Turf Club on Monday.

Ten Group races were added to the 2023 calendar (20 in total) and the re-introduction of four race series in the 23/24 racing season, namely the Singapore Triple Crown series, the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge series, the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge series and the newly named STC Super Sprint series (which replaces the former Singapore Sprint Series that was discontinued in 2019), was music to everyone in the racing industry’s ears.

“It’s great news,” said Clements on Tuesday.

“We (ARTS) have been in dialogue with (Chief Racing Officer) Dayle (Brown) and (Chief Handicapper) Sean (Ang) from the (Singapore) Turf Club on both the fixtures and the feature races going forward for some time.

“It’s obviously been a tough couple of years for everyone concerned but we are extremely happy with what they have put together for the next season and it’s exactly what we need at this time.

“We still have a long way to go to get back to pre-Covid days but it’s a tremendous start. For trainers, owners and everyone involved in the industry; it’s a real shot in the arm.

“Singapore buyers have been very active at the sales in both Australia and New Zealand of late – which bodes well for a stronger horse population – and this news from the Club comes at the perfect time for industry confidence.

“Feature races are really important – not just to those with a horse in the race – but the overall buzz at the track and training. It adds a lot to the racing game. Racing thrives on it.”

And what of the 2022 season – which comes to its conclusion this Saturday – for both the trainer and racing in Singapore in general?

“Look, I had a slow start to the year but I have been really happy with how it’s finishing,” said Clements.

“I will finish third in the trainers’ tally and that’s not a bad effort after a slow start. Prosperous Return winning the QEII was a big thrill too.

“Racing in Singapore was the same. It was tough early with Covid-19 restrictions but the crowds are back now and you saw last Saturday (Group 1 Singapore Gold Cup meeting) that the atmosphere at Kranji is alive and well at the big races.

“Hopefully, we add a few winners to our seasons tally (51) on Saturday and take a winning weekend into the end of year’s break.”

He nominated 16 horses for the 12-race meeting and rates the exciting South Of The River in the $50,000 Class 4 Division 1 race over 1000m as one of his better chances.

“He loves the Poly(track), has plenty of speed and should race well,” Clements explained.

“He will handle the turf in the future but at this stage, he has won both his starts on the Poly(track), so we will leave him there for a while. (Jockey) CC (Wong Chin Chuen) will stay on and hopefully they can win again. South Of The River is an exciting horse for next year.”

You can make a serious case for plenty of others in the Clements’ arsenal but the lanky handler is hoping leading jockey Manoel Nunes can make the difference on the ultra-consistent Harry Dream in the $50,000 Class 4 Division 2 race over 1200m.

“She has been knocking on the door for (apprentice jockey) Ibrahim (Mamat), so we think having Nunes riding could get the job done. She will be strong late and deserves a win for her efforts.

“We also have Nunes on Coin Toss (running in the $50,000 Class 4 Division 1 race over 1200m) and he looks well placed, so hopefully we can go close there too.”

In what bodes well for the new year, Clements also has two new debutants – Mewar and Mykyta – in the $75,000 Restricted Maiden race over 1200m.

“I’m ooking forward to see those two make their debuts,” he enthused.

“Both of them have trialled well but also shown enough at some turf gallops, so they will enjoy the surface.

“Mykyta is an Argentinean-bred but by a noted sire on the turf (Fortify), so he should race well on the grass for (jockey) Marc (Lerner) and (jockey) Jake (Bayliss) will ride Mewar, who has impressed me at the trials and at trackwork.”