After Michael, big brother Lee to frank Freedman name at Kranji
At 61, quite a few horse trainers are still in their prime, but some may start looking at taking the foot off the pedal, scaling down, or simply picking up either that golf club or that fishing rod - just call it quits.
Australian Hall of Fame trainer Lee Freedman could have been one of those in the twilight of his career, no doubt an illustrious one in his case - if he had been satiated from all the accolades to just kick back and tell his grandchildren about his own Hall of Fame memorabilia, the crowning glory being five Cups won on a famous first Tuesday of November.
But no, the five-time Melbourne Cup-winning trainer has done the opposite. Ditching talks of retirement (well, he’s been there done that once), he has gone one step further – move offshore!
Lee Freedman is by far the most high-profile name to join the Singapore training ranks., picture Singapore Turf Club
Just when many thought his training career had gone a little stale, Freedman has upped stumps for a new country, arms akimbo again, ready to face head-on the brand new challenges lying ahead – new owners, new stables, new track, new house, new neighbours, new taxi drivers – and only one season, a hot and humid summer.
Singapore, Freedman’s chosen playground for a renaissance of sorts, certainly ticks all these boxes.
One staple which, however, remains – and luckily for a horse trainer like himself – fairly constant, it’s the horse.
Whether he gets the quality of a Makybe Diva, Super Impose or Mahogany at his new digs remains to be seen, but the much smaller string of horses he is dealing with is not entirely unfamiliar. After he rejoined brother Anthony in 2014 from a three-year sabbatical where he wore a racing consultant hat with three different people, Freedman knew the heyday of his two decade-long blitz in Australia, mainly Melbourne, was long gone.
Much has been said about his quieter time being a push factor to seek greener pastures in Singapore, but Freedman let in there were actually three factors that led him to take the plunge and say hello to Kranji and fried kway teow.
“I’ve been thinking about training in Singapore for a while and when (brother and ex-Kranji trainer) Michael told me Laurie Laxon was leaving, I thought it was a good time,” said Freedman a few hours before he saddles his first runners on Friday night – four beginning with Lim’s Archer in Race 3 after Emergency Acceptor Dicaprio could not get a berth in Race 8.
“I rang Laurie to find out more and he asked me to come up and have a chat. I met with officials and they told me I had to make an application first.
“I did and I was fortunate to be given a licence and boxes. I’m really delighted to be here.
“The other reason why I came was I had been in a partnership with my brother Anthony after I retired for three years. It was a smaller operation and quite successful, but it’s difficult with partnerships.
“I didn’t feel good about that and at the same time Anthony’s son Sam was coming back from England after being a pupil trainer to Roger Varian.
“So you can say it was a combination of three factors which meshed in together at the same time, and which all led to me coming to Singapore. The three stars aligned.”
The 124-time Group 1 winner certainly hopes his lucky star will shine at Kranji, while some observers have little doubt it will, given the formidable squad he is inheriting from Laxon, lock, stock and barrel - bar one.
“I will train all of Laurie’s former horses except for one, Graeme Rogerson’s horse Unconquered who is going to Stephen Gray,” said Freedman, who ironically did forge a partnership with the formerly Sydney-based Kiwi trainer during his three-year hiatus.
“I have to admit I don’t know the horses well. It will probably take me till Christmas to not only understand them well but also to grasp the whole system, the handicapping, the set-up, etc.
“But in the few weeks I have been here, I have had a really good idea on the ground. For now, I’ve just done some normal bits of work to my horses just to keep them happy.
“Shane (Ellis, Laxon’s assistant-trainer who has joined Freedman) knows the horses inside out and he told me they look good, and I also can see that. I will learn a lot more from tonight and Sunday, but you can’t learn everything in only a couple of weeks.”
While he susses out his new workplace, Freedman, who has taken over Laxon’s stables at Block 101A, can’t wait to eventually dovetail his 34-year-long wealth of experience into his new operation.
“All the signs have been good so far. There is everything a trainer would want to have here, the Singapore facilities are second to none and the lifestyle is great,” said Freedman who was officially given the green light to kick off on September 1.
“Of course, there are some things that are different, and certainly positive, like the training hours here are much more preferable compared to back home.
“The other thing I had to get adjusted here is the heat and humidity. With the rain we get here, I will also have to get used to the different tracks and the going.”
While grateful to be piggybacking on Laxon’s string of horses, Freedman, who boasts two international wins to his glittering resume, the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot with Miss Andretti in 2007, and more pointedly, the now-defunct Singapore Airlines International Cup with Mummify in 2005, can’t wait to have his own horses joining the yard.
“I’ll initially have five horses coming from Australia to join Laurie’s horses, and by next year, I should have another eight to 10,” said Freedman.
“It’ll be a good mixture of clients of Michael’s as well as my own, for example the China Horse Club. We will let them race there and decide which ones can stay and which ones would suit here.
“I’m also delighted to have the Mummify colours back. The owners are a great bunch of lads, with John O’Neil the ringleader along with Brett Carty.”
While it is well documented Freedman’s cap of feathers has not really bulged out in recent years, he has not lost his hunger for such lofty goals, if anything it has been whetted again.
“I actually won my last Group 1 race only last March, with Our Ivanhowe in the Ranvet Stakes. He was first-up since the Melbourne Cup and I really enjoyed that win,” said Freedman.
“Of course, I would like to win the big races here as well. That’s what we are in here for.
“I actually think I have a very nice Gold Cup horse in Lim’s Samurai who ran second in the Derby. I haven’t ruled out a horse who would come up from Melbourne and could be a Cup horse, too.
“I would also love to race horses internationally, be it Dubai or back home. But I’m a pragmatic and I know we need to have the right horse. We would be blessed if we could have a Rocket Man.
“Of course, I have fond memories of Mummify’s win in the SIA Cup. I couldn’t make it that year, but Michael was here, and it was a great buzz.
“So, technically speaking, I do have a record in Singapore and as it stands, it is 100 per cent!”
The pragmatic trainer is, however, fully aware that stat may change dramatically at his first weekend with four horses saddled on Friday night and three on Sunday, including Affleck in the $200,000 Group 3 Jumbo Jet Trophy (1400m).
Freedman has done the best he can to wrap his head around his seven inaugural starters, but his horseman’s touch has not been left at home either, especially for Affleck.
“Rome was not built in one day, and it will take me a while to work my horses out, but I think Lim’s Archer should run very well, I just wished he had drawn better (10),” he said.
“Lim’s Shot is in rare form even if he’s running in a stronger race this time. We are not overly confident but he should run well, too.
“Alfonso is quite old now, but I was quite impressed with his work. He looks in great order and this looks like a nice race for him.
“As for Affleck, he’s a good horse coming back from a long injury, a cancer on his hind left. He trialled very well last week and whatever he does on Sunday, he will improve from that.
“He went so-so first-up and I decided to put the blinkers on for the first time. I’m a great believer in trying out new gear and if it doesn’t work out, we can always take them off next time.
“It’s either a great move or it could be the greatest stuff-up. Laurie will be at the races tonight, and I’m sure he will give me a kick in the backside if his horses run ordinary!”
But all jokes aside, Freedman sounded dead serious about this new lease of life he has been afforded by the Singapore Turf Club. Granted, he left the game once, but he is bent on making the most of this third chance.
“This one is for keeps,” he said.
“I’m really looking forward to the new challenge. I know I am now into my sixties but I will carry on training while I’m still fit unless my body tells me otherwise.
“And if things work out for me, I can quite see myself training here in Singapore until I retire.”