Hail Michael Clements, the new King of Kranji
Zimbabwe-born Michael Clements crowned Singapore champion trainer for the first time after 22 years
Champion trainer-elect Michael Clements was officially crowned King of Kranji on the final day of the 2020 racing season yesterday, in what has been a phenomenal season in his 22 years in Singapore.
The former two-time Zimbabwe champion, who had sealed his first premiership on the penultimate day a week ago with his 13-win lead over three-time champion Mark Walker, added three winners to wrap up his stellar season with 61 victories. He also notched the highest strike rate (17.23 per cent).
He won with newcomer Starlight (Race 2), Imperium (Race 3) and Knight Love (Race 6). Overall, he has saddled 674 winners, including several in Malaysia, since he relocated to Singapore in August 1998.
Although he failed to land a winner yesterday, Australian Vlad Duric secured his fourth consecutive champion jockey's title with 65 winners.
Malaysian Simon Kok, who was suspended yesterday, snared his second successive champion apprentice jockey's award with 34 winners.
"The feeling is great. It was definitely my goal for the season," said Clements, who took up Singapore citizenship in November 2010, as things were not going particularly well in Zimbabwe and he was happy to be part of the local community.
"We finished runner-up last year and, a few years prior, we had been creeping up a lot. We knew we had a fighting chance.
"When Covid-19 came along and stopped racing for three months, we were a bit disillusioned as to how the year would pan out. But, once racing restarted in July, we really enjoyed a good run, got the winners and skipped clear for the championship."
Clements and Walker had played musical chairs during the season. In early August, Walker regained the lead with his incredible five-timer for the same owner, Remarkable Stable.
But Clements took the driver's seat again the following month and never looked back.
"We still believed that we had the firepower to go through the season," he said.
"We got a lot of young horses in the stable, we had a lot of up-and-coming horses that were going to start racing. Even though Mark was well clear, we were confident that we could do it, because of the strong stock that we have in the stable."
The 2020 season has certainly been amazing for the lanky 55-year-old with many firsts - the Singapore Derby, Queen Elizabeth II Cup, Singapore Gold Cup and premiership.
"The highlight of the year would be winning the championship - the biggest achievement for me," said Clements.
"The other highlights would definitely be winning three Group 1s - two with Top Knight in the Derby and QE II Cup and with Big Hearted in the Gold Cup, which is Singapore's most prestigious race. It's the race to win as a trainer in Singapore."
Top Knight, one of the leading contenders for the Horse of the Year award, obviously has that special place in his heart.
"Top Knight also won the Singapore Guineas last year. Three Group 1s from him definitely rates him as the best horse I've trained," h e said.
Clements has done well in Singapore, but it was only in recent years that his fortunes soared.
"When I look back, things really turned around for me about five years ago, when I made a concerted effort to go out and select the horses for my owners," said the affable trainer, who also took up meditation, became a vegetarian and kept long hair around that time.
"I went to the sales physically. I also have an agent who helped me quite a lot. Actually going and selecting the horses myself, I know what horses we need for Singapore. I did that every year for the last five years.
"With that, my stable has been getting stronger and stronger, with what I see have been the right horses, and it has got to a stage where we have been in a position to win the premiership."