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From South Africa to Korea and now Singapore pitstop, Rice is relishing the joyride
Michael Lee

Bart Rice’s learning curve from the day he moved to South Korea from South Africa in 2013 is still ongoing as he explores another aspect of horse training this Sunday.


The 40-year-old South African handler is in town to saddle his first international runner, Triple Five, in Sunday’s $250,000 Korea Racing Authority Trophy (1200m) along with two other Korean runners, Parang Juuibo and Always Winner.


Rice arrived in Singapore with wife Pam on Tuesday and has wasted no time in overseeing the US-bred three-year-old. The couple were up early at 5am in the last two days to watch Triple Five being put through his paces by race-rider Nooresh Juglall, including a gallop on the Polytrack on Thursday.

Bart and Pam Rice take five at Kranji after they've tucked away Triple Five back in his box at the
International Stables.


From what he saw with his own eyes, Rice could not complain.


“He’s travelled well and has settled in well as my groom Joe (Park Jong Moon) told me. He’s more or less around the same weight he was in Busan, round about 465kgs,” said Rice who did visit Singapore as a tourist last year.


“He’s moving well on the Polytrack. Nooresh told me he felt like he’s run on this track before, he was very professional and took everything in his stride.


“On Tuesday, he had a trot and canter, and today, he went a little quicker. I was very happy with the gallop and if Nooresh is happy, I’m happy.”


But one could sense the travelling novice and the realist in him was also bracing himself for either extremities in such uncharted waters.


“When I was training in Zimbabwe, I did cross the border to run horses in South Africa, but that doesn’t really count. This is really my first time travelling horses that involved a long flight,” said Rice, who has saddled around 150 winners all-up between his first base in Zimbabwe and his native South Africa where he operated from Ashburton, Pietermaritzburg in Kwa-Zulu Natal.


“Obviously, I’m here to gain some experience for the future, especially in running a horse overseas. I hope I’m doing it right, so far things have gone really well.


“If we can finish in the Top 5, I’ll be happy.”


When he was told by the KRA his three-time winner (from six starts) had been selected to represent Korea in the reciprocal race at Kranji, Rice was of course honoured, but was more in disbelief over how just 13 years ago, he was assistant-trainer to current Kranji trainer Michael Clements in Zimbabwe and his career has been turned on its head since he took a leap of faith to farflung Korea.


“It was a big move and I have to say it was tough at the beginning, especially with the different racing system and culture. But Pam and I stuck it out and we are doing well now, we’re happy,” said Rice, who has 25 horses in work.


“We had an interpreter at the beginning, but we decided to learn Korean as it helps to be able to communicate with the staff and owners, everybody for that matter.


“This season, as of last Sunday, I’m currently sixth and I’m quite confident I can finish in the Top 5, and third would be the best case scenario.”

Bart Rice (left) chats with Singapore's multiple champion trainer Laurie Laxon (middle) at
Thursday's barrier trials while Laxon's assistant-trainer Shane Ellis looks on.


Rice said while it has taken him a while to break through the closely-knit Korean training ranks with the only other foreign trainers being Australian Peter Wolsley and former Malaysian-based Irishman Thomas Gillespie in Busan while former Singapore-based Australian trainer Brian Dean is in Seoul, he gets along well with them now, especially Busan’s current leading trainer Kim Young Kwan, who was one of the first two Korean pioneers to test the Singapore waters with two horses, Nobody Catch Me and Gamdonguibada (both unplaced) in last year’s inaugural edition.


“Kim Young Kwan has been the top trainer in Busan for a number of years and he has the most horses. He’s a good man,” said Rice who said he and his wife now called Korea home even if they do fly back to South Africa for holiday every year.


“He will be at Kranji this Sunday as a visitor only this time. The owner of Triple Five (Choi Byung Boo) also has horses with him and we get along well.”


Rice said Triple Five might not be the current best sprinter in Korea, but he personally thinks he is the right horse for Sunday’s race.


“There are a couple of reasons why I took Triple Five to Singapore,” said Rice whose biggest win is Zimbabwe’s 2004 Castle Tankard with Millstar who was owned by his wife.


“I picked this horse myself as a yearling for US$30,000 through an agent, just by looking at videos and his pedigree. From Day 1, I’ve always thought he would be better on Polytrack and I think Nooresh will back me on this.


“In my opinion, he’s a sprinter with quite a bit of gate speed and likes to be on the pace, though I understand you can win from off the pace on Polytrack as well.


“Then secondly, in the next five weeks, there were no suitable races for him in Busan. There were 1400m and 1600m races but I think at this stage, he would be out of his depth over such trips.


“As we are competing for decent prizemoney and I think the horse can be competitive, the owners were more than willing to give it a go even if we have races with good prizemoney back home.”


Rice admitted to not knowing for sure how Triple Five would measure up against the home team, but thought that by having a “homer” like Juglall on his side, he would have at least a bit of inside knowledge advantage.


“I could have used a Korean jockey but as Nooresh rode a bit for me when I was in South Africa, I thought it would be a good idea to put him on,” said Rice.


“He knows the track, which is always an advantage, and I like the way he rides. Derreck David was also an option, but his work permit has not been approved yet.”


An appreciative Juglall was certainly glad his old Durban connections have paid off with a reunion of sorts in a different jurisdiction.


“I knew Bart from my apprentice days in South Africa. I rode a bit for him,” said the Mauritian-born former two-time South African champion apprentice jockey.


“Bart was still in Korea when he approached me for the ride, and I was more than happy to ride his horse, both in trackwork and in the big race.


“I was pleasantly surprised with how professional and well educated this horse was. Today, he had a bit of a hit-out over the last 400m of the Polytrack and he pulled up in great order.


“Hopefully, we have a bit of luck on Sunday. It’d be good to win the race for Bart.”