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Lux aiming to be Head of the class
Michael Lee

Free Port Lux is French jockey-turned-trainer Freddy Head’s first horse to race in Singapore, but unbeknownst to many, the handler is not quite venturing into totally uncharted territory.


Trivia diggers would have got their head around it already – pun fully intended.


The former six-time French champion jockey, four-time Arc winner and trainer of legendary mare Goldikova belongs to one of his country’s most famous racing dynasties. His sister Criquette Head-Maarek was the winning trainer of Iron Mask (Olivier Doleuze) in the very first edition of the KrisFlyer International Sprint, then known as the Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Sprint (1200m) back in 2001. 

Free Port Lux with track rider Philippe Bruneau up at Kranji on Thursday morning. Trainer Freddy Head
was in the stands watching.

Head-Maarek never revisited Singapore for another foray, but her daughter Patricia came up via her Spanish-trainer husband Carlos Laffon-Parias 11 years later and duly conquered the Singapore Airlines International Cup (2000m) with Chinchon.


That balmy night in that equatorial island in May has since been an oft-related topic of many conversations around a nightcap for the Heads, but Head also had his own tale to tell. He himself rode here once, but during the old Bukit Timah days in a bygone era so lost in the recess of his mind that he cannot remember the exact year.


A search through the archives indeed revealed that Head was part of an international four-man team dubbed as the Ritz Club who took part in a four-Leg jockeys’ series called the Challenge Trophy in March 1983. Singapore constituted the third Leg and the team was made up of Head and three English legends, Lester Piggott, Pat Eddery and Joe Mercer.


Facing a local team made up of Martin Sng, Chiam Tong Soon, R Rajoo, captained by none other than our very own Kranji trainer Leslie Khoo when he was still a top jockey, Head did, however, not win a race.

Freddy Head looking for an SIA Cup win under the belt.

But the 67-year-old trainer is back in Singapore, albeit on a different track 32 years later, also in a different capacity – as a trainer - and for much higher stakes.


The International Group 1 Singapore Airlines International Cup (2000m) on Sunday is no friendly joust among hoops hailing from different countries. It is a $3 million race assembling a field of topline horses, that Head had targeted for his Oasis Dream four-year-old entire ever since he realised he had the ideal candidate under his barn.


“I first came to Singapore when I rode with Lester Piggott, Pat Eddery and Joe Mercer at the old Bukit Timah track in the 80s,” he recalled of his first visit with his old cross-Channel mates.


“It was part of a jockeys’ invitational and I didn’t win, but we did win in Malaysia and Hong Kong. I’ve never come back since as a jockey or trainer, but of course I’ve heard a lot about Singapore racing and always wanted to get an invite in the Cup or Sprint.


“Of course, Criquette won the Sprint with Iron Mask and my niece Patricia and her husband Carlos won the Cup with Chinchon a few years ago. Now it’s my turn to try my luck and I believe I came with the right horse.”


With plenty of depth in his Chantilly stable made up, among others, of 30 horses for powerhouse owners, the Wertheimer Brothers, including recent impressive US$6 million Dubai Turf (1800m) winner Solow, Head had singled out a relative unknown for the tropical mission, but does have huge wraps on the lightly-raced (11 starts only) three-time winner.


“Free Port Lux is a good horse, a Group 2 (Prix Hocquart over 2200m) and Group 3 (Prix du Prince d’Orange over 2000m) winner, and he is a good type for the SIA Cup. The trip suits and there aren’t many 2000m races on turf in Europe,” said Head.


“I have other horses back home, but I cannot run them together, and decided to try and come here instead. As he’s always beat Pascal’s (Bary) horse (Smoking Sun, last year’s runner-up), we thought that was a good formline and he should be competitive.


“I could have run him in the (Group 1) Prix Ganay (2100m on May 3), but with horses like Cirrus Des Aigles (eventual winner) and Al Kazeem (runner-up) in it, I thought it would be too tough for him. We preferred to try the SIA Cup.”


Head, who has now clocked his 18th year as a trainer since hanging up his boots, landed in Singapore only on Wednesday to run his eyes the next morning over his precious charge for the first time since he left Chantilly six days ago. The first word that emerged from his mouth might have been an old hackneyed French expression, but it oozed sincerity nonetheless.


Il est magnifique! (He is magnificent in French)” he exclaimed. “He has copped his first trip very well, I must say, and I’m surprised he has taken so well to working under lights as we never work at night back home.


“It’s just that he is shy by nature, though. That’s why he wears blinkers in his races and he’s also not used being all by himself in his box here.


“I bought him as a yearling in Deauville and he was the first horse for a new owner, Olivier Thomas, who works in the free port service, hence Free Port Lux which stands for Luxemburg.


“Olivier also owns another good horse called Ride Like The Wind. He ran in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket two weeks ago but he did not win (ninth; Gleneagles won).


“I hope Free Port Lux can run well on Sunday as he is in really good shape. He ran well first-up in the Prix d’Harcourt when he ran fifth to Al Kazeem and beat Smoking Sun (eighth).


“Forget his run in the Arc when he ran second-last. He was not well the week before and I think the 2400m is in any case the end of the world for him.


“He likes a good surface, normally runs handy but can also take the lead if he wants, but he needs a true-run race.”


Besides Smoking Sun, Head said he did not know much about the opposition made up of the likes of past winners like Dan Excel (2014) and Military Attack (2013), let alone Japanese raider Meiner Frost or any of the locals like Stepitup or Quechua, but the way Free Port Lux runs on Sunday may or may not be a gateway to other parts of the world.


The French horseman may have won the Breeders’Cup Mile three times with Goldikova in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and other marquee Group 1 races like the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes with Charm Spirit at Ascot in 2014, but he certainly does not have his head in the clouds as far as Free Port Lux is concerned – at least not yet.


“This race will give us a good gauge how he measures up on the international stage,” said Head who has booked the Prix du Prince d’Orange winning partner Mickael Barzalona for the ride on Free Port Lux in the SIA Cup.


“If he runs well, we can still travel with him as he is only four. Races like the Arlington Million in the US, the Cox Plate in Australia or the Hong Kong internationals could be next targets for him.”


“But let’s see how he goes here first and then we can dream bigger.”