Raffles Racing; From Malaysian racetrack to Australia’s Most Sacred Race
When the gates crash open Saturday afternoon in the Cox Plate, for one young man – win, lose or draw – his dream will have already been realised.
Malaysian born, racing enthusiast Kyan Yap, manager of the Raffles Racing Syndicate has come a long way from a young, wide-eyed curious child, who would “tag” along with his father Dato Yap to the stables and local racetrack – to the owner of one of the favourites, Sacred Falls, in one of the world’s most prestigious races;
Australia’s weight-for-age championship, the $3 million W.S Cox Plate – the race “where legends are made”.
Many punters across Australia, New Zealand and Asia would have heard of “Raffles Racing” through the superstardom of four-time Group 1 winning stallion Sacred Falls, but the untold story of how a father and son have created a global racing and breeding empire, is a great racing tale.
I was fortunate enough to sit down with Kyan this week, in the lead up to the Cox Plate and find out how that young Malaysian boy came to be manager of a budding, global racing and breeding empire and how he rates his horses chances come Saturday.
How and when did you first take an interest in horse racing and how did that lead to you becoming to manager of the Raffles Racing Syndicate?
My interest in horse racing stems from being exposed to the sport at a young age. My dad, Dato Yap, raced a couple of horses in Malaysia in the 80s and I would sometimes tag along when he visited the stables and attended the races.
This was always a treat for me, as I loved seeing the horses, especially when they start running on race day.
This interest in horse racing was later rekindled in 2005 when my dad and his associates took over managing operations of the Saigon Racecourse in Vietnam. During the opening of the then upgraded Saigon Racing Club, dad asked me to pick a horse from their first batch of Australian imports and he gave him to me as a gift.
It became my first racehorse and my first winner too!
However I only really got actively involved, after dad and his associates Bruce Sherwin and Lawrence Wadey, took over Raffles Farm in Cambridge, NZ, and subsequently invested in our very first filly, the dual Group 1 winning Shamrocker.
This was in 2010 and I was 32.
Due to the success of Shamrocker I had the pleasure of attending my first race meeting in Australia and which was the Crown Oaks of 2010. Although she did not win, I enjoyed that day immensely and I was hooked on the thrill and excitement of thoroughbred racing from then on.
The irony is, the horse that beat her that year, Brazilian Pulse, was actually bred and sold by Raffles Farm!
After that race, I think dad realised we have quite a special operation going on, thus he asked me if I would like to take a more active role in helping him with both the breeding and racing side of the business. I jumped at the opportunity and Raffle Racing was born.
So when did your father and his associates acquire Raffles Farm, and can you elaborate on the actual farm setup and operation itself?
Raffles Farm is situated on 150 acres of prime land in Cambridge, New Zealand and was initially set-up in the 1990’s by the late Freddy Lee, brother of legendary Singaporean president Lee Kwan Yew.
The farm was formerly a part of the late Jim Campins ‘Chequer’s Stud’ but was taken over by my father Dato Yap, Lawrence Wadey and Bruce Sherwin in 2008.
One of Raffle’s first thoroughbred investments was a 50% share in an O’Reilly-Bohemian Blues yearling filly who went on to become star filly Shamrocker, winner of the Australian Guineas and AJC Derby.
Shamrocker was the catalyst for what Raffles Farm is today and the love affair with O’Reilly was to produce the horse that defines Raffles today – Sacred Falls. His success (Four Group 1 victories, including two Doncaster Miles) has been a clear highlight for the team.
At any given time there are usually about 100 horses on the property, ranging from broodmares to weanlings, yearlings and spelling racehorses.
At present a total 38 broodmares reside on the farm, of which dad owns 28.
All foals are bred to be sold, but given the yearling sales are more akin to a beauty pageant, there is always one or two that are retained if it’s thought that they will not command a reasonable value in the sale ring.
One such “ugly duckling” was More Than Sacred, who from humble beginnings went on to win the Group 1 NZ Oaks from the stable of Raffle’s NZ-based trainer, Tony Pike.
Apart from More Than Sacred, Brazilian Pulse (VRC Oaks), Mr Baritone (Stradbroke Handicap) and more recently First Seal (Flights Stakes) are other Group 1 bred winners to emerge since the new team has been in charge.
What an amazing way to kick-start things, owning the first filly in more than two decades to win the AJC Derby, an historic occasion, as it was the 150th running of the race!
What is the ultimate mission of Raffles Racing?
Well in terms of the business, our motto has always been breed to sell, and buy to race.
As for our mission, we aim to become an integral player in the industry and strive to offer the best of our ability in both racing and breeding.
We would like to give back to the industry too, and pledge to donate a portion of our Group 1 winning prize-money to charities related with the industry.
Given that we are also quite new and young in the industry, we also hope that our success will encourage more people to get involved in the Sport of Kings.
Did you ever think you’d own a horse that would be capable of winning such a famous race as the Cox Plate?
As an owner, one has to be optimistic in racing but also take every win with gratitude.
Racing is a dynamic sport encompassing many factors beyond our control therefore we approach this systematically.
Whilst being optimistic, we don’t sit back and day dream, but work diligently and step by step with the team and trainer to get the horse to the necessary level and only recognise that the horse has a chance in a race once it leaves the gate.
We take this approach with all our horses whether it is in a Group 1 race or a maiden race.
It’s easy to see why Raffles has been so successful in such a small space of time with an attitude like that!
How did your association with champion trainer Chris Waller, who prepares Sacred Falls, begin?
Raffles has had an amazing run of success with Chris Waller Racing, dating back to handy galloper The Embassy in 2009 that won the Group 3 Randwick City Stakes (who later won the Group 1 Perak Derby for us in Malaysia).
We have bloodstock agent Guy Mulcaster, who helped us secure The Embassy, to thank for the introduction.
Guy is an integral part of the Raffles purchasing team, as he together with Chris, helped us purchase The Alfonso and Sacred Falls, as well as the very nice Fastnet Rock colt from Love and Kisses who is currently with Chris too and worth keeping an eye out for when he hits the track!
Having racehorses in 5 different countries around the globe and having dealt with hundred’s of different trainers, where do you rate Chris in the scheme of things?
In my opinion Chris Waller is definitely up there as one of the best in the world, but he did not get to where he is by sheer luck.
He is one of the most hardworking trainers that I have dealt with, and one who provides the most feedback and constant reports on the horses.
Most importantly he is always honest about his opinions on the horses and has never strung owners along. He is a master at what he does and he really has the knack of getting horses to peak at the right time for the right races.
What would winning “Australia’s championship race” the Cox Plate mean to you on a personal and business level?
It would be a testament to great faith and un-wavering belief we have always had with Sacred Falls.
It will also prove that we have a great team and we are definitely doing something right. (laughs)
However, winning or not, it is already a huge honor being a part of such a prestigious race, and Sacred Falls has already done more than enough for us.
His retirement to stud after the Cox Plate will certainly mark the start of a new chapter for us, and hopefully we will be fortunate enough to breed or purchase another horse such as Sacred Falls in the future.
Finally, on behalf of punters around Australia and as a mad punter myself, there’s just one last question I HAVE TO ask…..
How do you rate Sacred Fall’s chances in the race Saturday?
We are confident, but would have been more so if we had drawn a better barrier. But then again we have Zac on, so that adds a different element altogether to the race. He’s in brilliant form coming of his Caulfield Cup winning ride and has done a great job for us in the past.
Fingers crossed that Zac can slot in and get cover, then try to start sneaking into the race down side, after doing as little work as possible, and then building momentum around the final bend, for a final charge in the straight which is what he does best!
Thanks for taking time to chat to us Kyan, it’s greatly appreciated, best of luck in the big race Saturday and also with Raffles Racing as it continues to build into of the world’s leading breeding and racing setups.
With such an incredible work ethic instilled in the set-up and a highly skilled team all across the board, you could say that the rise to prominence of Raffles Racing was inevitable and so is it’s continued growth and success.
Sacred Falls after already having won back-to-back Doncaster Handicaps, which is Australia’s premier mile race annually, already rates as a champion in my book, having also won two other Group 1’s.
A Cox Plate victory to bring down the curtain on an illustrious racetrack career would be fitting for a horse that I believe has been so underrated his whole career.
While it’s the end of his racing career, his retirement to stud creates an ever so prosperous outlook for Raffles Racing and Breeding.
Kyan & Dato through their tireless hard work and devotion to the racing industry deserve every ounce of success they achieve.
Interview courtesy Mitch Fenton @mitchfenton88