SINGAPORE - In the season's spirit of "out with the old, in with the new", trainer Desmond Koh (right) has not begun the Year of the Horse without a spot of spring cleaning himself - even if it means dealing with the "not so new".
While trainers regularly turn over their stock, the Singaporean handler recently tried something different when he replenished his yard with six Malaysian gallopers through a "package deal".
After Malaysian trainer Wee Mung Hua unexpectedly handed in his licence at the beginning of the year, one of the owners parting with his horses in the dispersal sale was a friend of Koh's.
When approached by the friend, Koh did not pass up the opportunity. He flew up to Kuala Lumpur, liked what he saw, made an offer, and soon headed back home with half a dozen horses, the top buys being no doubt Singapore Group 3 winner RISING EMPIRE and the one with the highest rating (85), three-time winner KING EMPIRE.
The former Leticia Dragon-trained pair were not the only ones on the float across the Causeway in reverse, as the remaining four actually all began their racing career at Kranji before relocating to Malaysia: SNOW FLAME (one start for Brian Dean), and three ex-Shane Baertschigers - KNIGHT SPIRIT, HARDEN UP and SARAWI.
Koh - who bought all six horses for himself for an undisclosed amount - has already tested out a couple of his Malaysian imports - or "ex-Singapore exports" - on their old stomping grounds, with new exotic names to boot.
First to be rolled out was Sarawi, who has already had two runs under the belt with a fourth as his best result, while Snow Flame, a six-time Malaysian winner Koh renamed Guaricana (inspired by his love of all things tribal), ran on Chinese New Year, beating one home.
With Sarawi and Guaricana having both started at long odds, Koh was not holding his breath for immediate returns, treating this "recycle" venture more as a long-term investment, or "speculation", as he said.
Two more face the starter this weekend. Koh saddles King Empire (now going by the name of Congo Zandor) in tomorrow's Race 8 and Knight Spirit, who scored only one of his five wins in Malaysia, has been nominated in Sunday's Race 9. Koh has booked his two apprentice jockeys for the rides, with Tengku Rehaizat on Knight Spirit and Koh Teck Huat on Congo Zandor.
"The deal was right and I didn't see any reason not to consider taking over my friend's shares," said Koh. "It's expensive these days to buy new horses as you know. So, when my friend wanted to become less involved with racing when MH Wee left, I went up to Malaysia to have the horses vetted, and they were okay and sound.
"They are certainly decent horses with some residual value in them. This is just like speculation, and I will be happy if we can break even.
"Two of them have run already and this week I've entered two more. It's all about testing the waters first. Hopefully they can turn into good bread-and-butter horses worth having a bet and a flutter on.
"I can also get to enjoy the sport as an owner. The prizemoney at the Singapore Turf Club is so good that I don't mind spending some money myself."
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