While the art of horse training holds few secrets to six-time Singapore champion trainer Laurie Laxon, he is never adverse to thinking a little out of the box to gain that extra edge – even if it means dabbling into the spiritual world.
The New Zealand expatriate, who relocated to Singapore in 2000, is known to have on a few occasions embraced a few local customs, none better exemplified by the imposing statue of a terracotta warrior standing guard at his Kranji stables. Sunday’s winner Devonshire, the 66-year-old mentor revealed, was not borne out without the help of a little divine intervention either - with a local flavour, the Hungry Ghost Festival.
The Chinese festival, which started last Friday, is held on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar when roaming spirits or “hungry ghosts” are said to come from the lower realm and are given offerings and food by their living descendants. Such rituals are often seen in Singapore where believers give food offerings and burn joss sticks by the roadside or near HDB void decks in a bid to appease the spirits.
Devonshire (Joao Moreira) gets the better of El Perigo (Stephen Baster) over the concluding stages, picture Singapore Turf Club
Laxon, for one, thought a respectful nod to such belief would keep his yard in good running order – and he sure was repaid for his open mind to such multicultural variety.
“I’ve started feeding the Hungry Ghosts at the stables since Friday, and Devonshire is my first winner since. I keep the ghosts happy and the stable’s happy,” said Laxon.
“I did the whole ritual with food and incense burning. I’m taking no chances, I’ve got all my bases covered.”
After coursing out wide for most of the 1600m trip of the $55,000 Class 4 Division 1 race, Devonshire ($14) came with a well-timed run for Joao Moreira to get the better of $13 favourite El Perigo (Stephen Baster) who was being hailed the winner 600m from home.
Star Ballad (Subramaniam Anandan) ran third another 1 ½ lengths away. The winning time was 1min 39.85secs.
“He’s been running in the money for us a fair bit since he’s come to us (from trainer Stephen Gray),” said Laxon.
“The owner even thought he could be a Derby runner for us last month, but I don’t think he was quite up to that level.
“He does stick on good, though. He can definitely stay as he was the widest today and probably ran further than any other runner.”
Devonshire, a five-year-old gelding by Bachelor Duke out of the Kashani mare Kashani Heights, has now registered three wins from 12 starts for the Patella Racing group managed by bloodstock agent Mike Kneebone. Besides Sunday’s win, Devonshire has also returned four placings from six runs under Laxon’s care.