Racing

Trainer Cliff Brown leaving Kranji in March for Australia

Trainer follows compatriot Freedman's footsteps to return to Australia to continue training career

Another top Kranji-based Australian trainer is returning to Australia to continue his career, a victim of the Covid-19 pandemic.

While Hall of Famer Lee Freedman's decision to return to continue his trade at the Gold Coast was floated on the circuit, Cliff Brown's came as a surprise.

The multiple-Group 1 winning trainer said the radical racing reforms brought about by the Singapore Turf Club in the wake of the pandemic has rendered unsustainable a business model that had, until then, proven viable since his relocation from Victoria in 2008.

As heart-breaking as his decision - made in consultation with his wife Jo - Brown put his family's future and his own as a trainer first.

He is in the process of winding up his Kranji operation and is scheduled to leave in mid-March. Freedman is also packing up about the same time.

Brown, 51, gave three main reasons for his move - the drastic changes to the racing system, his children and his most recent star Inferno. All three have been triggered by Covid-19, directly or indirectly.

"Covid-19 has crushed the club, just like it has damaged a lot of other racing jurisdictions around the world. No-one is immune to its devastating effects," said Brown.

"When I came to Singapore, my business model was to win as many races as possible. With the many changes we've seen in the last year, many things have been taken away as a result. My business model won't work any more.

"The number of races has dropped, we can't get a run for our horses. That has greatly affected our income and our bottom line.

"(Youngest son) Felix is with us, but Jo and I haven't seen our two eldest kids for one year because of the closed borders and travel restrictions.

"Both Harvey and India are in university back home, and not seeing them for so long has been very hard, and I don't think travel will happen this year.

"Thirdly, Inferno going back is a big thing. Having him here now wouldn't make any sense and that's why we decided to send him to Australia.

"There's no guarantee that he'll be good enough in Australia. He may not be top level, but I would really like to see him there, and be part of that new journey."

The former juvenile champion is hot favourite for the 2020 champion three-year-old award. He won both legs of the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge.

He also won the Group 1 Lion City Cup and was invited to contest the prestigious Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint last month. But he had to be withdrawn after not fully recovered from the heat stress he had to endure at Changi Airport on his way to take his Hong Kong-bound flight) because of a faulty air-con on his float from Kranji.

Barree Stable's dual-Group 1 winner and eight-time winner will be trained by Jim Conlan in Mornington. Brown will take back the horse after he has secured his licence there.

A successful trainer in Victoria before moving to Singapore, having trained 13 Group 1 and 2 winners in Australia, he has yet to choose a training base. He had sold his former Narbethong property a few years back.

The likeable trainer, who hopes to be operational in May, will bring a few of his 54 horses with him. The rest will be redeployed at Kranji, the same for his staff.

He said the first people he informed were his owners, who were understanding. But telling his staff was the most difficult part.

"I've seen them get married, have kids. It may sound corny, but they have become like a family to me," he added with emotion. "There are too many good people to mention."

Only two of his staff, Chris Bock and Tony Lane, will be joining him in Australia.

"But I told my local boys they can apply to join me in Australia one day. I'll do everything I can to get them in," he said.

"One of the positives for my time here has been the growth and development of my staff. I have enjoyed that."

Brown saddled his first Kranji winner Celine Star on July 13, 2008. He went on to add another 565 winners, including a remarkable haul of 34 at Group level, 13 of which were at Group 1.

Undoubtedly, 2016 Singapore Horse of the Year Debt Collector, with five Group 1 accolades, will remain his most celebrated horse.

HORSE RACING