Racing

Saimee to call it quits

Former eight-time champion jockey-turned-trainer a victim of Covid-19 crisis

After just about four seasons, including a successful one last year, eight-time champion jockey-turned-trainer Saimee Jumaat will relinquish his licence on Oct 15 - a victim of the coronavirus pandemic.

With most of his owners leaving the game one by one, including his main supporter George Tay, who died last year, empty boxes soon outnumbered horses in his stables.

Then the pandemic compounded the problem that had already set in since the last quarter of last year, although he shared the top local trainer's honours with Alwin Tan with 32 winners .

From a healthy stable of about 40 horses at its peak, it dwindled alarmingly to about half this year. The latest count was only two, Buddy Buddy and Stardice, who will be his last runners in the next two weeks.

"It was a tough decision to make. But, with no support in the last year, it's become impossible to keep going," said Saimee, who saddled his first winner, Shoqeet on Aug 13, 2017, and last winners Letitgo and Taro San, on Dec 6 last year . He trained 71 winners in total.

"After George passed away, I could not sell his horses and I then took over them, which is an additional financial burden as a trainer.

"My owners were also not buying new horses, I had mostly old horses. The numbers were coming down. There was no turnaround, no fresh blood, and I ended up owning most of my horses.

"I've tried to garner new owners, but it wasn't easy either because racing already had many negatives, and then Covid-19 came as the last straw."

The 48-year-old knew sometime in the middle of the year that he could not sustain and to pull the handbrakes to live to fight another day.

He discussed with his wife, Nicole, and children. They were supportive of his decision.

"It was between having the same lifestyle or the same operation, but family comes first at the end of the day," he said.

"I'm sad to leave. But, at the same time, when I look back, I would say I've done very well in the first three years, even finishing top local trainer last year, which is to me my career highlight. At least I know I can train. I'm quite proud of what I've achieved in a short time. If I get the opportunity to return as a trainer one day, I will definitely consider it."

While he is giving up training, Saimee is not leaving the scene altogether.

He is keen to make a comeback as a jockey, the profession that earned him 1,300 victories. The inaugural $3 million Singapore Airlines International Cup on Ouzo in 2000 was the crowning glory of his many major successes.

"Riding is something I just want to do because that's what I love to do. I've put in an application for a jockey's licence, before the deadline of Sept 1," said Saimee.

"That would be my first choice. But it will, of course, be subject to the club's approval.

"I've been offered a few jobs with some stables, but I'll first join Mark Walker as a senior track rider next month."

Despite having retired from race-riding in 2012, Saimee still cuts a trim jockey-like figure.

"As you know, I've been riding trackwork all the while, as some of my young boys can't handle some of the more difficult horses.

"Not in barrier trials, but I did ride Stardice in one on Tuesday. It's been a while since I rode in a trial."

If he is granted the jockey's licence again, his life will come a full circle.

HORSE RACING