AFTER spending 11 years in Singapore, Australian trainer John Meagher and his sons have made the shock decision to bow out of the scene to return home.

Meagher ended the mounting speculation about his departure by officially tendering his letter of resignation to the Singapore Turf Club on Wednesday. He will be relinquishing his licence with effect from 20 February 2011.

MICHAEL LEE reports on the SINGAPORE TURF CLUB web-site that The 62-year-old Melbourne Cup-winning trainer will therefore saddle his last two runners – Monkey Man and Village – this Friday before he trains his binoculars towards his next venture: Set up a training partnership with sons Chris, Paul and Daniel in Brisbane while training from their recently-acquired 84-acre Rivermead property in Nerang on the Gold Coast.


“In all fairness to my sons, it was about time for us to train back in partnership, and that’s why we’re heading back to Australia as we can’t do this here,” said Meagher.

“It would also have been difficult for them to train there individually. I think with my experience and their youth, that’s the way the competition is going in the future.

“We will train as a family. It’s a great place to train - an ex-polo club in immaculate condition where we’ll refurbish the boxes and build a new track, a swimming pool and water walkers.

“Hopefully, it’ll be ready in 12 months. In the meantime, we will be in Melbourne as we have a few other projects going on involving the horse racing industry.

“We will also have a satellite stable in Melbourne so we can have horses in both centres and that means the best of both worlds.

“I’m very proud of my relocation to Singapore and have enjoyed immensely being part of the development of Singapore racing. But we’re excited about this new phase in our lives and it was time to move on.”

As much as he is looking forward to this new chapter in his life and the new vista of opportunities before him, Meagher could not help feeling emotional when he looked back on his time in Singapore.

“I still remember having breakfast with Mr Lau (Kian Heng, then VP of Racing) and Dr Brian Stewart (then chief veterinary surgeon of the Club) at Chiquita Lodge in Flemington one day in May 1999,” he reminisced.

“I came up here, liked what I saw and moved my whole family over. My father Jack, who was a soldier from the 2/29th Battalion defending Singapore during World War II, would have been proud of me coming here and achieving success.

“We arrived in September 1999 just before the grand opening of Kranji and we were lucky we got off to a fairytale start: Our first runner Quorum won!”

Memories of Flemington and career highs such as that famed win on a first Tuesday in November with What A Nuisance (1985) soon faded away as 575 more winners were subsequently led in at their new stomping ground at Kranji by Meagher or either Chris and Daniel, while Paul worked behind the scenes at the stables.

The Meagher golden era certainly captured the imagination of local racegoers with their host of successes (29 Group wins including seven Group 1s) including the most famous of them all, the 2000 Singapore Gold Cup with Kim Angel, three Raffles Cups (Mayo’s Music in 2004 Lim’s Classic in 2006 and Lim’s Objective in 2007) and one Lion City Cup with Arenti in 2006.

But Meagher said his proudest moment did not come from any of the abovementioned Group 1 wins, but in an arguably less prestigious race - overseas.

“All these wins were memorable because that’s what we’re in this business for, win Group races, but I got my biggest buzz when Lim’s Classic won a Listed race in Dubai in 2005,” he said as tears welled up in his eyes.

“Not because of the prestige but more so because it was the first time Dan was all by himself and responsible for the supervision of Lim’s Classic’s campaign in Dubai. I was so proud of him.

“Winning the Melbourne Cup was great, but winning that race in Dubai with my sons was even more gratifying.

“I was also happy I was the first to win an International race since Ivan Allan won with Colonial Chief in Hong Kong and it was a real pride for me to fly the Singapore flag as an Australian representing Singapore with a horse owned by Singapore owners.”

Which brings the Mordialloc native to his most effusive self when he is reminded of this particular owner who has been with him every step of the way – Mr Lim Siah Mong of the Lim’s Stable.

“I’ve had the support of many owners and they have all been fantastic,” he said. “But you can’t imagine how honoured I am to have been a key player in the rise of Mr Lim Siah Mong (champion owners in 2007 and 2008) in becoming a leading owner in Singapore.

“He was one of the first to approach us in September 1999. He had no horses, he heard of our good name and background and he was very happy to get involved.

“It’s always a pleasure when Mr Lim and his partners win a race, and not only with the horses I train.”

Meagher did not fail to pay tribute to those owners who have stuck solid with him over those 11 years, namely the Sawmills Stable headed by Marcus Mills and David Bizzaca, of Arenti fame, and in more recent years, the Bell brothers, the Lansdown Stable and Dr Tan Kai Chah.

“I’m lucky to have had good owners behind me, and of course I’ve made sure they relocate their horses before I leave,” said Meagher whose 60-odd horses would be spread among mainly Steven Burridge, Laurie Laxon, Hideyuki Takaoka, Basil Marcus and Bruce Marsh.

The renowned master of apprentices was also privileged to have two of his best students ride winners for him during flying visits in Singapore – Steven King (Arenti in the Lion City Cup) and Brett Prebble. But the biggest kudos go to neither, but a homegrown (even if he is from Penang) talent – the “underrated” Soo Khoon Beng.

“One person I will miss immensely is KB. He’s underrated but he’s such a fearless jockey,” said Meagher who over the years has had the likes of Mick Dittman, Aaron Spiteri, Jason Patton, Fabian Alesci, Mark Zahra, Eddie Ahern, Danny Beasley and Adam Fiezan ride for him at Kranji.

“He’s ridden close to 200 winners for us. He’s a good judge and very effective in tight finishes.

“But above all, he’s got great work ethics - at 6am sharp, he’s always here at the stable making himself available. That’s why the boys call him the lion tamer!

“He’s become part of the family as well. We’ve celebrated many Chinese New Years together and as I understand his culture, I let him put an altar to his gods in my office.

“Every week, I light up the joss sticks myself to keep him riding safely and in top condition.”

The gods must have also answered Meagher’s prayers to stay at the top himself, though he has never claimed a Singapore trainer’s premiership. But he said his biggest regret during his Singapore tenure was not to miss out on the title but not to win the Singapore Derby instead.

“It’s never been a No 1 priority to win the premiership here. Placement of horses,  getting a long life out of them and a return were my main concerns,” said the famously patient conditioner.

“We’ve been on Laurie Laxon’s heels and it’s fair to say we’ve kept him on his toes. Barring 2000 and 2008 when we had an ordinary year, we’ve always finished in the Top 5, and that’s a record I’m proud of.

“I’ve always believed in going for quality more than quantity. My main aim was to win as many feature races here and the only domestic big race missing is the Derby.

“We came close with Exaggerate in 2003 but we lost to the late Charlie Read (Lead To Victory), and we were happy to lose to such a good friend.”

Other than Read, Meagher said he would dearly miss the enduring friendships he has made among the Kranji trainers, especially within the local ranks such as Dr Yeoh Kheng Chye, Sam Chua, John O’Hara, Douglas Dragon and David Kok.

“They’re the salt of the earth,” said Meagher who is often seen trading banter with those regulars at the trackwork viewing area known as Speakers’ Corner, and later re-named Charles Read’s Corner.

“They’ve accepted us foreigners and gave us a warm welcome with open arms and for that I’m eternally grateful. We’ve become like family.”

Meagher also made it a point to hand out big thank you’s to namely, the Veterinary Department, whom he often acknowledged during his post-race interviews whenever one of his problem horses wins eg four-time winner Kotipelto, who was plagued by bad knees but unfortunately broke down at his last run and the Tracks Department for the “thankless job” they perform.

“Sometimes, we don’t realise how professional the vets are. They’re all from  different parts of the world and bring their racetrack experiences here in Singapore,” said Meagher.

“It’s been a wonderfully enriching experience to see them at work here. They’re great surgeons, supported by great technical staff and they’re really at your beck and call.

“The tracks people headed by R Jayaraju don’t do an easy job but they’ve done amazingly well considering the additional meetings that come on board every year.”

Meagher then saluted the contribution of his own staff, some of who will get a chance to continue the Meagher legacy in Australia.

“We will also dearly miss many of our terrific syces who have been with us for over 10 years, not forgetting our secretary Zarinah who was with us from Day 1,” said Meagher.

“Our No 1 track rider Andrew Kermond is coming home with us as he is part of the family. And of course Dan’s fiancee Sabrina (former jockey AK Sabrina) who will join us after she finishes her studies here.”

And in bidding farewell to a country and an organisation which the Meaghers have come to adopt as their own, Meagher struggled to find the right words.

“I’ll definitely go home as an ambassador of Singapore – and I’m entitled to,” he said.

“The Singapore Turf Club has come a long way and now boasts international standards, world-class racehorses and state-of-the-art facilities, and we’ve been privileged, me, my wife Ann and my three sons to be part of this.

“The Club can be proud of the integrity of its racing and it goes without saying it is professionally run.

“All Singaporeans should be proud of the quality of its racing as it also gives employment to a lot of people. I don’t think there is a better Club in the world.

“I’ve truly enjoyed my time here with my family in this clean, green and efficient country, and I now look forward to seeing Singapore racing flourish in the years ahead.

“Thank you Singapore!”