The recently concluded 2018 Singapore racing season must surely have left trainer Shane Baertschiger rueing the one that got away - the coveted champion trainer's title.
It was certainly a case of so near yet so far when the one-time leader found fellow Australian Lee Freedman in his element, driving up in the last few months to clinch the top accolade in his first season. The Australian Hall of Famer with five Melbourne Cup victories saddled 67 winners, leaving Baerschiger in second spot with 59 winners.
But the lanky Baertschiger, affectionately known as Stretch at Kranji, could not have been happier with his top performance. He also savoured a good haul in the feature races.
All his five wins were in Group 3 events, namely the Singapore Three-Year-Old Sprint over 1,200m with Be Bee, the JBBA Rocket Man Sprint over 1,200m with Aramco, the Jumbo Jet Trophy over 1,400m with Preditor, the Garden City Trophy over 1,200m with Aramco and the Saas Fee Stakes over 1,200m with his rising star Bold Thruster.
With the 2019 season just under way, Baertschiger is taking a pragmatic approach and he has his reasons. He realises that he might struggle to keep up with the same tempo into the new season.
Firing winners on a regular basis last year, Baertschiger was a close contender for top honours throughout the year until Freedman drew clear late with his strong team. He said he gave the championship his all, but somehow knew his task would be made harder with the stable's dwindling numbers around October-November.
"It was a very good season, but I knew it'd be tough to win the title. I was left with only half of my stable in the end, it's been a long year," said Baertschiger, who took over from his father Don in 2012 and enjoyed his biggest haul in 2017 with 61 winners to finish third behind Mark Walker (87) and Ricardo Le Grange (65).
"That's why we are having a quiet start to the season. I had only two runners on New Year's Day. It's a bit better this Sunday with seven runners. We'll take it week by week, no rush, we'll be right."
Three of his runners are engaged in the same event - the $85,000 Kranji Stakes B race over the Polytrack 1,100m in Race 8 tomorrow. They are Dinghu Mountain, Flak Jacket and Guilty Pleasures, who did not figure among his most prolific runners last year, even if they all won at least one race, but Baertschiger is still counting on a good performance.
"They're not top chances, but I think they'll run well," he said. "It's hard to split them, but if I really had to, I would say Flak Jacket might have a slight edge.
"He may be eight now, but he's run well at his last three starts. He won in Class 3 and ran well when up in class. Vlad Duric will ride him.
"Dinghu Mountain is first-up from a break. He has a good first-up record, but this may be too short for him.
"Guilty Pleasures ran third at his last start on Polytrack. He's maintained his form."
Baertschiger has booked Barend Vorster and Matthew Kellady on Dinghu Mountain and Guilty Pleasures respectively.
"They're all fit and well and have all drawn well (3, 5 and 6). May the best one of them win," he said.