Dan’s The Man!

Gr1 Singapore Airlines International Cup win means that Sussex Stakes at Goodwood looks a possibility now

Dan Excel 170515

Dan The Man staves off the gallant effort of Military Attack

It was déjà-vu at Kranji at many levels when Dan Excel stole a march on his rivals to snare the $3 million Gr1 Singapore Airlines International Cup (2000m) on Sunday.

For a start, it was the same white and black diagonal silks carried by the Shamardal seven-year-old that scooted off to an emphatic win in the glamour event for Hong Kong and his trainer John Moore last year.

That in itself is quite a feat as Dan Excel was rewriting history by becoming the first horse to win Singapore’s richest race twice since it was launched in 2000.

The other salient point that emerged as Dan Excel led the 11-horse field a merry dance was that the sparkling victory was bringing up a third consecutive SIA Cup-KrisFlyer International Sprint (1200m) double for Hong Kong, an outcome most pundits had felt was eminently possible given the five-horse strong team they weighed in with this year.

In 2013, the former British colony began the juggernaut with Military Attack and Lucky Nine, before doubling the dose with Dan Excel and Lucky Nine last year.

As well as horse and country, there is a similar common streak among the successful jockeys and trainers permutations and combinations, with jockeys Brett Prebble (two, both Lucky Nine for trainer Caspar Fownes) and Zac Purton (two, Military Attack for Moore and Aerovelocity for trainer Paul O’Sullivan in this year’s KrisFlyer) and now Tommy Berry has joined his Australian peers by steering Dan Excel to his second SIA Cup triumph.

And while the David Boehm-owned gelding beat French stayer Smoking Sun home last year, it was a quinella for Hong Kong with the runner-up Military Attack, now trained by Fownes, but again ridden by Purton on Sunday.

All these convoluted Hong Kong trivia aside, the race itself was as simple as it could get in its execution. Ridden on a piece of cotton by Berry from the word go after he speared over from his wide alley to go stacking the speed as he pleased, Dan Excel ($18) was never going to get beaten when he went for broke at the top of the straight.

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The winning connections celebrate

Japan’s Meiner Frost (Masami Matsuoka), who was camped outside Dan Excel for most of the way, did try to draw on level terms just before the home turn, but the one-batting grey could not quite quicken despite extending his big strides to maximum effect.

In a scenario a shade tweaked from last year’s renewal when Dan Excel came from third to leave the rest standing as he motored home unopposed, he was again on his lonesome when he kicked clear with Berry going flat-chat at the 300m, but a serious menace did loom large – the ominous challenge of the 2013 winner Military Attack, who obviously had the same designs as Dan Excel – a second helping.

Purton got into overdrive on the courageous Irish-bred seven-year-old by Oratorio, but Berry had rated his mount to perfection and history belonged to Dan Excel as he hit the line first with half-a-length to spare from a very gallant Military Attack.

Third home was the first local, Longines Singapore Gold Cup winner Quechua (Corey Brown) who stuck on well after travelling in a good spot throughout the 1 ¼ mile trip, but was always hard-pushed to come within touching distance of the two Hong Kong horses, finishing a gap of 2 ¾ lengths away.

The winning time was 2min 1.52secs for the 2000m on the Short Course, more than two seconds outside the record, a clear indication of the slow tempo the winner dictated to the race, which basically had his opposition snookered from a long way out.

Moore, who was at his third consecutive SIA Cup success, which makes him the most winningest trainer of the yearly feature, again paid tribute, first and foremost, to the team who worked tirelessly behind the success, more so when Dan Excel had gone through a bad patch last year after his first SIA Cup victory.

“Congratulations to everyone as it was a team effort. Without the boys and girls, we wouldn’t have made it,” said the leading trainer.

“It was a great effort to bring him back to this level especially after his throat operation in Sydney. We backed him off and when I spoke to the vets, they were confident he would be back, and I would say he was in even better condition than last year.

“It wasn’t the plan to lead, but he found the lead easily, and Tommy who knows the horse so well, knew exactly what he was doing.

“We have been approached by Ascot and York. Obviously, we will be there with Able Friend, but we will now have to consider the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood in July. I will have to discuss with the owner, David, and think about it.”

An ecstatic Berry could not stop whooping it up on his return to scales, delighted with the way his impromptu plan to catch his rivals napping had paid off.

“I didn’t expect to lead. I thought Slew Of Lode would jump out and lead,” said the Sydney gun rider.

“He can be a bit keen, but I had the Japanese horse (Meiner Frost) on my outside and I know they normally go from a long way out, but he was ‘nice enough’ to leave me alone.

“I knew I would not get a better run and I was like waiting on the count for a horse to run me down. When the Japanese horse came to put a bit of pressure at the home turn, I let him go and he went full speed ahead.”

Berry, who rode Dan Excel twice in Hong Kong after the first SIA Cup win last May, including his last-start third in the Group 1 Champions Mile (1600m), could sense he was peaking at the right moment.

“I told John to forget the Champions Mile race as he was caught four wide and had to tough it out early,” said Berry.

“He’s best fresh before the race and he was like that tonight, just like last year.

“It’s always great to ride for John and win the big races for him. He always supports me whenever I get a chance to ride in Hong Kong.

“I can’t describe in words what it means to come back to Singapore and win another big race here, as Nathan (Berry’s deceased twin brother) rode here a year ago (before his passing). Time has gone by, and he is still part of me every day of my life.

“In a way, he’s made me a better rider at another level. I am more patient, more like him now. I know Nathan is riding with me.”

One person who was disappointed with how close he came to landing his first SIA Cup was Fownes, but the regular Singapore visitor still kept his infectious sense of humour as he vowed to make amends next year.

“Military Attack should have won. He lost two shoes!” said the reigning Hong Kong champion trainer.

“There was no pace in the race and Dan Excel did what he wanted in front. Nobody went up with him.

“Those at the back had no chance. At least, my bloke came close but it was not enough.

“Lucky Nine (third in KrisFlyer), what can I say? He was flattened early in the race, and he still ran his guts out.

“I may look older next year, but I’ll be back!”

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