Michael Freedman was at Sha Tin racecourse this morning (Friday, 24 February) to meet local media, one week on from last Friday’s announcement that the Sydney-based trainer will join the Hong Kong ranks in July, working out of the Olympic Stables complex.
The Australian handler, who was a key cog in the Freedman family’s elite training set-up before enjoying eight successful years under his own name in Singapore, thanked the Hong Kong Jockey Club for the opportunity to fulfill a career aspiration.
“It’s been a long-held ambition of mine to come to Hong Kong and train,” he said. “I’ve been a fan of Hong Kong racing for a number of years and in my eight years in Singapore I was always extremely interested in what was going on here – I would watch the racing most Wednesdays and Sundays and I’ve always listened out for any opportunity to train here.”
Despite that ear-to-the-ground approach, Freedman, 48, admitted that the call from the Hong Kong Jockey Club was unexpected, but also affirmed that there had been no hesitation in accepting the offer.
“I was a little surprised but very pleased when I got the call several weeks ago with the opportunity to at least throw my hat into the ring,” Freedman said, explaining that last year’s return to his native Australia had, in his mind, lessened the likelihood of a Hong Kong call-up.
“It’s fair to say I thought it would be less likely,” he said. “I hadn’t given up hope but I probably thought that making the move back to Australia would be my last. And I approached it in that way as well. It was a big move to go back to Australia and reboot, but obviously when the opportunity was put in front of me it didn’t take too long to say yes. I’m looking forward to coming here and getting stuck into it later in the year.”
Freedman saddled 470 winners during his time in the Lion City, at a 15 percent strike-rate, and enjoyed Group 1 successes with the likes of Singapore’s two-time Horse of the Year Super Easy, Raffles Cup-winning trio Cheyenne Dancer, Always Certain and Super Ninetyseven, and Singapore Gold Cup hero Tropaios; and in 2011 his Better Be The One was a close third in Dubai’s G2 Al Quoz Sprint. He has maintained that wins to runs ratio since returning to Australia and has enjoyed smart successes with Teaspoon in the G3 Widden Stakes and Frolic in the recent Inglis Classic.
Hong Kong’s newest recruit recognises the tough, competitive nature of Hong Kong racing but believes that his experiences in Singapore and Australia will serve him well.
“I’m very mindful of how competitive it is here in Hong Kong,” he said. “There are some outstanding trainers and the standard of horse is just getting better – I hope to put myself in a position to contribute to that.
“My game plan, to some degree, will be to access horses from back in Australia and New Zealand, but they won’t be the only places I’ll be looking. I have some very good contacts in the northern hemisphere and I’ll certainly be using those contacts to try and access some of the best horses from up there, hopefully with the support of some strong owners in Hong Kong. One of my biggest successes in Singapore was winning the Gold Cup with Tropaios, an import that had won a Listed race in France, so the concept of getting fresh stock out of Europe is not foreign to me.”
And Freedman, who revealed that he will be spending much of his time at Sha Tin from early April, believes also that his experiences in Singapore have placed him in a good spot ahead of the transition to Hong Kong.
“From a training perspective, I expect quite a few similarities between training in Singapore and training in Hong Kong,” he said. “The nuances of that are probably slightly different to training in Australia. The horses, naturally, are under a little bit more pressure in these environments and so I’m hoping that having done eight years in Singapore under those sorts of conditions will stand me in good stead.”
Andrew Harding, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Executive Director, Racing Authority, highlighted the world-class standards that prevail in Hong Kong racing and expressed the Club’s confidence that Freeman can uphold them.
He said: “In January, the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities published the World’s Best Racehorse Rankings for 2016 and 26 horses, a record for Hong Kong, were in that list. That figure tells us two things: the first is that any trainer coming into the Hong Kong roster is coming in to compete against the best – this is an ultra-competitive environment; also, it tells us that we want, in terms of a new entrant, someone who can contribute to what we’ve already achieved in terms of world-class racing and help us be propelled to even greater heights. The Club is extremely confident that Michael Freedman can do both of those things.
“If you look to Michael’s record in terms of statistics: his tally of Group-race wins, his strike-rate during the eight years that he was in Singapore and during the time he’s been back in Sydney, these things speak for themselves,” Mr. Harding continued. “If you consider what he’s done in terms of adapting so successfully to new environments, starting from the ground and working his way very quickly to the top, he’s shown he can do that. He’s a proven performer in that regard.
“What he’s been able to do in terms of building a very strong and loyal owner base and assisting them in sourcing good horses from across the world that he’s then taken on to success, again, he’s a proven performer. When you consider all these things and you take into account also his impeccable integrity and probity, we have in Michael Freedman someone who will make an extremely strong contribution to Hong Kong racing.”
Freedman’s licence to train in Hong Kong will come into effect on Monday, 17 July.