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The Late "Doc Rodgers"


Doc Rodgers leading in one of his horses - 1970

Horses loved John Raju Rodgers, one of the most successful trainers in the local circuit. He pampered them and was more concerned with keeping them fit than in their winning a race. This, of course, was a matter of some chagrin to impatient owners. If a horse showed any hint of being ill, he scratched them from a race, gently nursed them back to health before allowing them to race. The horses rewarded him well for his care.

"Doc", as he was popularly known, was in the top league of trainers who dominated the racing scene from the late 1940s to the 1970s. Under his unstinting care, Three Rings, arguably the mightiest horse in local racing history, won not only three Singapore Gold Cups but two Penang Gold Cups as well.

A veterinary surgeon before he became a trainer, Rodgers kept in touch with the latest in equine medicine and regularly attended conferences on the subject. He approached training with a scientific eye and one of his main concerns was that his horses were properly fed.

Trainer Alex Rodgers recalls:"Dad was a gentleman and a gentle trainer. He would never damage a horse, he never pushed them and never compromised on their health."

Well-respected and liked in racing circles, Rodgers was often philosophical about his chosen profession. "Racing is a tough sport," he once acknowledged. "A trainer must have a thorough knowledge of horses. Life is also hard for a trainer. He has to be lucky and patient. He has also to satisfy many owners. A trainer has to know his horses well - their behaviour, moods and capabilities. Horses are like human beings in a way. They have their off-days when they just cannot do anything."

Born in Kuala Lumpur in 1915, Rodgers went to Madras where he studied to be a vet. He then worked with the Government Veterinary Office in Ipoh and Penang. In 1938, Capt H F Bloxham, who was in charge of running a horse sanatorium at Cameron Highlands, invited Rodgers to be the resident vet at the spelling station. Jumping at the chance to work with thoroughbreds, Rodgers accepted the offer.

His break came in early 1946. While holidaying in Penang, he was asked by a friend, Lee Say Yau, to take charge of a few of Lee's horses. Later that year, Rodgers became the first Malayan to be granted a trainer's licence after the war. He started with only six horses in his stable. His first foray was the Penang September Meeting that year. He entered a small grey Australian pony named Robelus who won. So pleased was he with his first win that some years later, when he bought his first house, he named it Robelus Cottage.

From then on, there was no turning back. Rodgers captured his first feature race, the 1950 Sultan's Gold Vase, with Miss Nathan. He also won the Singapore Gold Cup five times and was champion trainer in 1949, 1957 and 1962. As his reputation grew, more owners put their horses under his care. Among them were Malaysia's first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tan Sri Dr Tan Chin Tuan of Chen's Stable and SL Liem of Agasam Stable.

Three Rings was his most memorable horse. "Dad bought it as a griffin and it came without a record, a reject horse," says Alex. "Dad was full of love and admiration for that small fighter."

Bright Eyes, the first mare to win more than $100,000 in prizemoney, was also trained by Rodgers.

Rodgers also co-owned a few horses. His colours were white and a blue Maltese cross - the veterinary and equine symbol. In January 1970, he decided to call it a day as a trainer. He handed in his licence and set up a veterinary practice in Penang. As Alex explains:"After so many years working with horses, Dad felt that it was time to return to small animal practice."

But four years away from the track was all that Rodgers could take. The exhilaration of dealing with thoroughbreds and seeing them win was too strong to resist. Rodgers made a comeback in August 1974. In 1976, he saddled Singapore Sun to win the Sultan's Gold Vase and in 1979, Sunlight Wonder won the Queen Elizabeth II Cup.

Rodgers died of a heart attack in 1981. Alex took over his father's stable. "I have never aspired to be a trainer like Dad, maybe only half of what he was," he says. "He was a horseman in the truest sense and I have no doubt that he knew more about horses than anyone in his era."

Major Wins
Singapore Gold Cup - Mubarak (1953), Three Rings (1954), Three Rings (1954), Three Rings (1954) and Water Scout (1962)
Singapore Derby - Flying Dragon (1959) and White Heather (1961)
Queen Elizabeth II Cup - Sunlight Wonder (1979)
Penang Gold Cup - Three Rings (1954), Three Rings (1956), Couag (1958), Prince of Lalita (1959) and Automation (1960)
Perak Derby - Prince of Lalita (1959) and Lost Horizon (1963)
Selangor Gold Cup - Golden Lotus (1954), Muffin Man (1956), Prince of Lalita (1958) and Water Scout (1964)
Sultan's Gold Vase - Miss Nathan (1950) and Singapore Sun (1976)