- Australian Michael Freedman has become a leading trainer in Singapore
- Freedman has had to adapt the horse racing scene in Singapore
- Heat and humidity the biggest challenges
- Freedman hopes to train winner in prestigious Singapore Gold Cup
The sun is not yet up over Singapore's Kranji Racecourse but Michael Freedman's day has already started. "Most days I'm up just before 5 o'clock," the genial Australian explains. "I get to the stables just before half past five and the track opens at 6 o'clock. It's a little different to how they do it back home or in Europe but we have to start early because of the heat here."
The heat is just one of challenges faced by racehorse trainers working in the tropical climes of Singapore. Humidity is in the range of 70 -- 80%, while thunderstorms are an almost daily occurrence.
"It's a three shower a day city," jokes Freedman, who came to Singapore from his native Australia in 2008. "It's a lot hotter here, the horses sweat a lot more, so you do make subtle adjustments to counter that."
Freedman is the youngest of four brothers, all successful trainers in Australia. "My brothers and I have been involved [in training] for 25 or 30 years. I was part of a partnership with them until recently when the opportunity came up to set up here and train under my own name."
It meant transplanting his wife and three children -- triplets -- to a new country; a gamble that seems to have paid off: "My wife loves it here and my kids are very happy. You just need to adjust to the way things are done here -- and sometimes they're done a bit differently!"
Freedman arrived with a small team and immediately made an impact on the Singapore scene.
In contrast to Australia, where racing takes place six or seven days a week, Kranji hosts two cards a week, on Friday evenings and on Sundays.
During the rest of the week the course doubles as a training ground for the 27 trainers and around 1,100 horses that are based here.
Every morning before sunrise, a gaggle of trainers can be found watching through binoculars from the viewing deck as their charges are put through their paces under the floodlights.
As many as 30 to 40 horses may be on the track at any one time. After completing their laps, the thoroughbreds return to the yard, drenched in foamy white sweat, from where their grooms take them back to their air-conditioned stables.
The majority of the horses here are sourced from overseas and shipped to the island nation as yearlings. "There are some from Argentina and a few from the UK and other parts of the world but the bulk of them come from Australia and New Zealand, because there's no breeding industry in Singapore.
"Once they've been here for 12 months they're considered 'local.'"
An important distinction: the Gold Cup, Singapore's most prestigious race and the third leg of the Singapore 'Triple Crown', is only open to 'local' horses.
"The Gold Cup is everything in terms of Singapore racing. It's a time honored race. It's a race that any trainer or owner or jockey would aspire to win so if we were lucky enough for that to happen on Sunday that'd be huge for us, for sure. It's not easy to win. I ran fourth in it last year.
"They race left handed, as we always do here. It's on the turf track and it's over 2,200m under handicap conditions so that makes it a very open race. My main chance, Always Certain, will be carrying top weight on Sunday which will make his job difficult but I've got a lot of faith in his ability."
As if on cue the dawn sky is ruptured by a flash of lightning, briefly rendering the floodlights redundant as the track is illuminated by white light.
The horses, accustomed to the vagaries of the Singaporean climate, do not miss a stride.
"That would be our daily thunderstorm. And when it rains here it really rains: we've had two or three inches of rain here in the space of 20 minutes. Usually the rain comes and goes very quickly -- you don't often see rain sort of settling in for an entire day here. We get some pretty amazing storms here so you just work in and around it."
'Working around it' and making adjustments is something Freedman has learned to do with aplomb since he decided to crack Singaporean racing.
In a sport of few certainties, it would perhaps be fitting if the master of reinvention, the adaptable Australian who arrived in Singapore a little under four years ago, captured his first Gold Cup with Always Certain on Sunday.