Khoo has 2nd bite of Cherry

Leslie Khoo, who moved to Malaysia to pick up skills as a trainer, says the job comes with many challenges, from buying good horses to working with the horse owners.
Leslie Khoo, who moved to Malaysia to pick up skills as a trainer, says the job comes with many challenges, from buying good horses to working with the horse owners.PHOTO: DANIEL NEO FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Ex- Derby-winning jockey ropes in top Sydney rider to pursue glory, this time as a trainer

Former jockey Leslie Khoo still has a compilation of newspaper cuttings documenting his career in horse racing.

One photo, already yellowed with time, captures his victorious moment aboard Grand Illusion in the 1988 Singapore Derby.

"Those were the days when I was good at jockeying," said Khoo, who has recruited top Sydney jockey Hugh Bowman in his bid to win the 2,000m Group 1 race.

Now a trainer, the 62-year-old can roll back the years at the $1.15 million Emirates Singapore Derby with gelding Fastnet Dragon at the Kranji racecourse today.

It is believed that no rider has ever won the derby as both jockey and trainer, and capping his 43-year career with such a feat in one of Singapore's most prestigious races, especially with the Australian-bred galloper drawing a favourable Gate 1, is a mouth-watering prospect .

Remarkably, Khoo's foray into the sport was hardly planned. Back when he was 19, he found work in a law firm while waiting for his Senior Cambridge examination results.

His supervisor, who owned a few horses, suggested to the 1.60m-tall Khoo that his diminutive and lean build would make a perfect jockey.

Taking his advice, Khoo answered a newspaper ad seeking 10 apprentice jockeys, and was selected from a 1,400-strong pool.

Attached to champion trainer Ivan Allan, Khoo eventually became one of Singapore's top riders.

He said: "I've gone on to win a couple of big races. The Derby is one of the classic races here, together with the Singapore Gold Cup.

"The win (in 1988) was unexpected because the field was strong.

"Every big race you win, you feel very proud of yourself."

He then made the transition from three-time champion hoop to handler in 2001. Compared to his jockeying days, his latter career was full of hard graft as he moved to Malaysia to learn the ropes, returning to Singapore only in 2008.

His time across the Causeway was a springboard to further success as he finished second in the Trainers' Premiership, behind Patrick Shaw, just three years after his return.

"There's a lot to handle, from buying good horses to having a good owner for support and needing workers to run the stable," he said.

Nevertheless, Khoo's dedication has earned him respect in the horse-racing circle.

Said fellow trainer Desmond Koh, who prepared the Derby's 2012 winner Chase Me: "He's had a very good master (Ivan) and that helped his background in making the transition (from jockey to trainer)."

Yet, a Group 1 win is still missing from Khoo's trainer resume, and he hopes that win will come today with the help of Bowman, who has won two Sydney championships.

With pre-race favourites Quechua and War Affair drawn into stalls 12 and 14 respectively, the chance at coming full circle and making the headlines beckons once again for Khoo.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 12, 2015, with the headline 'Khoo has 2nd bite of Cherry'. Print Edition | Subscribe