Trainer Tan Kah Soon scores early first feature win

Tan Kah Soon is the latest new-generation trainer at Kranji to join the Group-winning club after Clarton Super came from behind to land a stylish win in the $350,000 Group 2 EW Barker Trophy (1400m) on Friday night.

In the past, Singapore first-year trainers took a while to hit their straps, let alone open their ‘black type’ account, but a noticeable trend in the change of the guard has gained traction of late, with those young bucks taking little time to claim the big races - and a few scalps along the way.

Ricardo Le Grange (Quechua in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup), Kuah Cheng Tee (already three Group wins under the belt, including Forever Young in the Group 1 Singapore Guineas), James Peters (Titanium in the Group 2 Stewards’ Cup) and recently Daniel Meagher (Secret Win in the Group 3 El Dorado Classic) are some of the new blood of trainers who have vindicated the Singapore Turf Club’s faith in them with their feature race heroics.

Clarton Super (Azhar Ismail) charges home on the outside to take out the EW Barker Trophy, picture Singapore Turf Club

And now Tan, son of respected ex-Penang trainer Dr Tan Swee Hock, has shown he also had the Midas touch in Group races.

More remarkably, the 37-year-old does not helm a huge team of horses (17) with only a handful of starters (19) to have gone around since he moved into his new Kranji digs on September 1.

Up until Friday, the former Darley Flying Start alumnus and Godolphin assistant-trainer had one solitary win to show for, General Conatus on October 15. In one fell swoop, he has trebled the score (Golden Mile saluted earlier for Michael Rodd) in the space of three races, bagging a Group 2 silverware to boot!

“I’m very happy, especially as he was a bit disappointing at his last start, even if I knew the big weight would be a concern. But I guess tonight’s win has made up for it,” said Tan as he referred to Clarton Super’s last-start fifth to Iron Man in a Kranji Stakes C race over 1400m on October 29.

“But he is a quality horse and with the light weight (Azhar Ismail rode him 1.5kgs over at 51.5kgs) helping, he proved it tonight, even if his prep leading up to tonight was probably not what we wanted.

“If he had won at his last start, I was actually thinking of running him in the Gold Cup, but it’s worked out good in the end. I’ve won a Group 2 race only two months after I started, I can’t complain.

“I have to thank the owner (Pentagon Stable) for keeping the horse with me (used to be trained by his former boss David Hill), and of course my father and my family.”

Unsighted in the initial stages, Clarton Super ($51) lobbed along worse than midfield, three wide for Azhar while Pole Paradise (Saifudin Ismail) gunned for the lead throughout but was unable to cross with White Hunter (Nooresh Juglall) kicking up on the rails to keep him honest.

Victorious team smile at the camera: (from left) owner Mr Tang Kim Chwee, jockey Azhar Ismail and trainer Tan Kah Soon, picture Singapore Turf Club

As the EW Barker Trophy 14-horse field swung for home, it became increasingly clear the two lamplighters were about to call it a night, and the winner would come from elsewhere.

Trainer Shane Baertschiger’s duo of Aramco (Glen Boss), the 3-1 favourite and Best Tothelign (Manoel Nunes) were among the first to pounce, but it was Tan’s Clarton Super in his yellow and pink silks who was looming as the biggest threat on the outside.

Though a little awkward as Azhar pulled the trigger while trying to counter his inclination to lug in, the Swift Alliance five-year-old was simply unstoppable when he unleashed his devastating turn of foot to sweep past his rivals one after another.

He was not out of the woods yet, though, with Fortune Winner (Wong Chin Chuen) suddenly finding her dash of old.

At the 200m, Leticia’s mare was vying for a gap which, however, vanished as Mr Fantastic (Barend Vorster) rolled in. Wong switched her out to a spot of clear room standside where she sprouted wings, but eventually came up short by half-a-length from Clarton Super.

Aramco ran third another length away, one length clear of stable companion Best Tothelign. The winning time was 1min 22.17secs for the 1400m on the Long Course.

Clarton Super’s success also showed that the old and the new guard can combine to reap the rewards when it matters.

If Tan was at his maiden Group accolade while he was still making baby steps, veteran stalwart Azhar at 54, has been a regular fixture at such rendezvous over the three decades he had been shuttling between his Malaysian home and Singapore.

The evergreen Malaysian multiple-champion jockey was actually the one to open the first salvo in the 2017 season when he captured the Group 3 New Year Cup (1700m) aboard Guru-Guru. Though the father of three (one is a doctor and the other two are studying dentistry in Ireland and architecture in Malaysia) does not command the pick of the rides among the jockeys plying their trade at Kranji, the fact he is still hanging around and was knocking in his second big-race win is testament to his longevity and hunger to still ride at the highest level.

“This is incredible. I’m very happy I’ve won another Group race in Singapore, especially when I’m not getting any younger and the competition is so tough,” said Azhar.

“Riding is more of a hobby now as all my kids are grown up. I want to stay fit and horse racing is also my passion.

“At his (Clarton Super) last run, my nephew (Amirul Ismadi) rode him and told me he felt flat. Tonight, he was different, I could tell from the moment I jumped on that he was back to his best, on his A-game.

“I also galloped him on Tuesday and the feeling he gave me was very good.

“He’s a horse you have to switch off at the back, and stay on the outside and he will respond better, but he’s also a horse who needs to chase something.

“Tonight, he had a few horses in front of him. You just have to time his run properly and he will do the rest.”

With that fourth win from only nine starts, Clarton Super has now racked up in excess of $320,000 in stakes earnings for the Pentagon Stable, and has also earned a well-deserved break.

“I had already decided that regardless of what he did tonight, I’ll put him away for the year,” said Tan.