Bjorn Baker forging solid reputation in Sydney training ranks as John Singleton joins admirers
Jul 18, 2013
THERE are times in everyone's life when opportunity comes knocking.
For Bjorn Baker, that moment came about three months ago when he received an unexpected phone call from John Singleton's racing manager, Duncan Grimley.
The purpose of the call was to sound out Baker as a potential candidate to train some of "Singo's" racehorses.
But Baker seized the moment: "I've never been shy to ask so when Duncan contacted me, I was straight on the front foot and told him I would love to train some horses for John Singleton," the trainer recalled.
"If you don't ask, you don't receive - that has been my motto since I've been in Sydney.
"I've been aggressive getting horses but I have to be because Sydney racing is so competitive."
When told about Baker's enthusiasm, Singleton arranged to meet the young Warwick Farm trainer.
Singleton might be a bit of a larrikin but he is nobody's fool. He is a canny businessman and had been watching Baker's meteoric rise in the Sydney training ranks.
"I was looking to spread some of my horses around to other trainers and Bjorn Baker has been getting some very good results," Singleton said.
"He reminds me of Chris Waller and Peter Moody - blokes who started with nothing and in a few years they have become champion, dominant trainers.
"Bjorn Baker has only been going a year or two and he is about to break into the Sydney top 10, that takes some doing.
"I met him, I liked his attitude, and he is a trainer having a 'go'. So, I've given him a few of my horses."
Baker saddles up his first runner for Singleton at Rosehill Gardens tomorrow when the well-bred Killcareless makes her debut in the Forum Group Handicap (1200m).
"'She's a pretty promising filly," Baker said. "I like her a lot and she has won her two barrier trials really well.
"I must say I like her and I'm looking forward to the race."
Killcareless is by More Than Ready, sire of Singleton's champion mare More Joyous, and the filly's unusual name is an example of her owner's quirky sense of humour.
Singleton has property near the picturesque Killcare Beach on the Central Coast where he derived the inspiration for the filly's name.
"It's a beautiful beach," Singleton said.
"And if you don't swim between the flags there then you are careless ... anyway, that's how the name came about."
Baker has had tremendous success with his two-year-olds this season, another reason which influenced Singleton and Grimley to give the trainer some horses.
Twilight Royale has been the stable star this season, winning three of her five starts including the Group 2 VRC Sires Produce Stakes, earning $465,000 - not bad considering Baker spent just $45,000 to secure her as a yearling.
Similarly, Baker forked out only $32,000 to buy Fuerza at the sales and the youngster has been placed in five of his seven starts this season including a very narrow loss to Guelph in the Group 1 Champagne Stakes, amassing $220,000 in stakes.
And Brilliant Terror cost Baker only $8000, had two starts for a win and a second on Sydney tracks, collecting $55,000 prizemoney before being sold for an undisclosed sum to Hong Kong interests.
"Let's just say I had an offer too good to refuse from Hong Kong for Brilliant Terror," Baker said.
"But we have had a fantastic season with our two-year-olds and perhaps the most pleasing thing is that those three were horses I bought for not a lot of money, I had no owners when I got them, and they have all done well.
"In Sydney racing, you really need to 'kick goals' with your two-year-olds, it is very important because there is so much focus on the two-year-olds."
Baker's juvenile team is indicative of his emergence as a new training force in Sydney racing.
At the start of the 2012-13 season, Baker had only 12 two-year-olds in his care.
For the new season starting August 1, he will be preparing more than 40 two-year-olds.
Baker now has at least 50 horses in training at Warwick Farm - a remarkable achievement considering he started out with just two horses in his stable when he arrived in Sydney from New Zealand two years ago.
In his first season here, he trained 11 winners on all tracks for stable earnings of $371,630.
As the 2012/13 season nears completion, he has already trained 45 winners, including three stakes successes, and earned almost $2.1 million prizemoney.
Singleton made comparisons with Waller and it is interesting to look how Baker's second-season statistics stack up against Sydney's all-conquering, record-breaking trainer.
When Waller was just starting out in Sydney racing, he took a little longer than Baker to find his feet and in 2002-03, he trained 22 winners on all tracks with earnings of $450,000 prizemoney.
Waller's results have improved every season after that and he soon found an increasing stream of owners wanting him to train their horses.
"You need numbers and quality horses to compete in Sydney," Baker admitted.
"Coming from New Zealand, it has been tough in a lot of ways because I want to make an impact and be competitive every weekend if I can but there are so many good trainers and quality horses.
"I guess if you haven't got good quality horses you do get found out.
"I've been very lucky because I have landed on my feet, picked up some great clients and I find Warwick Farm the best place to train."
Baker is hoping to add to his 18 city winners this season when he takes five gallopers to Rosehill Gardens tomorrow.
Warcrusher will clash with Killcareless in the juvenile race, Burbero is in the Woolworths Handicap (1500m), and Zaratone and City Of Song clash in the Alpha Flight Services Handicap (1100m).
"City Of Song has been running in stronger races and holding her own," Baker said.
"She is getting back to her best distance now. She should run well.
"Zaratone is close to a win but I'm hoping for a firmer track for him. He handles wet tracks but they don't play to his pattern of racing. If we can get a quicker track, he can bounce around that (final) corner.
"Burbero does look very hard to beat. He had a trial last Friday which he won effortlessly and this looks a nice race for him."
As Baker prepares for his third season in Sydney racing, the trainer believes he is well placed to take that next step in his career and become a "major player" during carnivals.
Baker believes the quality of horses he has in his Warwick Farm stable has improved considerably in the last 12 months and nominated Twilight Royale and Fuerza as potential big-race contenders in the three-year-old classics this spring.
"Twilight Royale will have a trial early next month and then we will look at the Princess Series with her," she said.
"I haven't ruled out the Golden Rose but that will depend on how she comes back to racing.
"She's had a good spell and looks in superb order. She is eligible for a $2.4 million bonus in the Scone Guineas next year and although it would be great to get to the race, we have a lot of water to flow under the bridge first.
"Fuerza will trial at Rosehill on Monday and we are hoping he gets to the Golden Rose."
Baker has certainly made the most of his opportunity since arriving in Sydney - and his story has only just begun.