Baker sets retirement day

Murray Baker won five Australian derbies in Sydney.

Trainer Murray Baker has announced his retirement – at 75 – 22 years after moving to Cambridge from Woodville.

“When Murray Baker confided to a few friends last spring that he was planning to retire from training after the Sydney autumn carnival, most of us gave it little thought … most of us had heard the “I think I’ll give it away soon” talk before,” long-time Melbourne racing journalist and friend of Murray Baker’s, Danny Power wrote in a tribute to him.

“Even son Bjorn, now an established top-five trainer in Sydney, scoffed at the suggestion.”

Murray Baker, 75, and recovering from a knee replacement that “hasn’t worked that well” confirmed his decision to retire with an email to his owners, past and present.

I wish to advise you that I am retiring on the 30th April 2022,” he wrote. “It has been a long and enjoyable road since I started with Harry Greene at the old Greenmeadows Napier Track in 1958…

“Andrew Forsman will take over training in his own right on the 1st May 2022 with a wealth of experience behind him having worked for and with me over the past 18 years. I am sure you will support him as you have supported me over the years.”

What that retirement letter didn’t tell is the story of a young “town” boy from Napier with a talent for cricket and no horse experience. After school he potted around the stables of trainer Harry Greene before taking a part-time job in 1958. Soon after he was legged aboard his first horse.

It was Greene’s horsemanship and interest in his young employee that sparked an urge in Baker not to follow his father into the corporate world of business, but to take a path with thoroughbreds that has led him into New Zealand Racing’s Hall of Fame, a record-breaking trainer on both sides of the Tasman and the tag of “racing legend”, Power wrote.

Baker’s 22 Group One wins (including those in partnership with Andrew Forsman and Bjorn) in Australia is the most by a New Zealand-based trainer.
Baker’s biggest thrills in racing come from his regular sojourns to Australia, which began in the mid-1980s.

“Winning five Australian derbies in Sydney and finishing second twice is probably my greatest achievement,” he said when reflecting on his career.

“Not winning a Melbourne Cup was one regret, although in my time the race changed a lot, it became more international and a lot harder for a New Zealand trainer, or even an Aussie, to win.”

Baker admits it is doubtful he would be retiring if there wasn’t someone capable to hand the reins to.

“Andrew has been dealing with the owners and attending the races for the stable for a while now, so I don’t see the transition being a problem. He’s learned a lot, come a long way, and I hope something has rubbed off from me in the way he trains.”

Baker trained his first winner in 1978 from stables in Woodville where legendary trainers Eric Ropiha and Noel Eales were the biggest influence on him.

However, the most important progression in his career came when he switched from Woodville to Cambridge in 2000. The move gave him access to better horses, especially sourced from the local studs, and a broader church of owners.

The list of outstanding horses to race for Baker is a Who’s Who of New Zealand racing, headed by Dundeel, who is now a leading stallion, and followed by The Phantom, Eagle Eye, Dowry, Prized Gem, Nom du Jeu, Harris Tweed, Lion Tamer, Dundeel, Mongolian Khan, Turn Me Loose, Jon Snow, Bonneval, The Chosen One, and Quick Thinker.

Baker has indicated a move to Napier could be on the cards… “getting a house with a nice ocean view could be on the cards”.

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