A Double and a New Course Record in Singapore

Reviews and reactions from Sunday's international features at Kranji

One by one, the records fell as Singapore crowned a familiar champion in the $1 million KrisFlyer International Sprint even as unchartered territory was discovered.

2014 Gr1 KrisFlyer International Sprint

Lucky Nine, that intrepid traveller from Hong Kong and last year’s defending champion, became the first horse to make it back-to-back wins in the International Group 1 sprint over 1200m.  Trainer Caspar Fownes also etched his name into the record books, winning the event for a historic third time to make him the most successful trainer in the biggest and richest sprint race in Singapore.

Proving that age is no barrier to success, 7yo Lucky Nine was the second oldest runner after Captain Obvious (Oscar Chavez), the only eight-year-old left in the race following Medicean Man’s late withdrawal at the starting gates, ran home a comfortable victor ahead of a trio of local challengers.

Ridden by his regular partner Brett Prebble, the Irish-bred gelding finished two-and-a-half lengths ahead of runner-up Emperor Max (Zac Purton), with Zac Spirit (Alan Munro) a further two-and-a-quarter lengths away in third.  The old timer Captain Obvious was fourth, another length-and-a-quarter back. The winning time was a brisk 1min 8.15secs, just outside the Short Course record of another Hong Kong star Sacred Kingdom’s winning time of 1min 7.80secs set in 2009.

For Fownes, whose first triumph here was with Green Birdie in the 2010 edition, it was sweet vindication for his superstar speedster, who posted a three-length victory here last year but in the past 12 months since then has at times been written off as being over-the-hill.  “Don’t tell him he’s a seven-year-old!” laughed the Hong Kong-based British handler.  “I’m immensely proud of him and it’s been a real pleasure to have this horse. We’ve had a lot of fun having him in our stable and it’s thrilling to get my third win in this event.”

This was also Lucky Nine’s seventh Group 1 victory, more than the combined total of the other eight runners, in a glittering career that began as a two-year-old racing in Ireland and has taken him all across the globe, competing in Japan, Dubai and Australia as well as in Hong Kong.  Before this victory, the son of Dubawi had picked up 12 wins from 37 starts and amassed stakes earnings of around HK$47 million (S$7.6 million). This latest victory was worth around $550,000 for his connections.

“He adjusts to new environments very well,” said Fownes. “He’s like us, he loves to travel and get out of Hong Kong. He’s got a lot of heart, that’s what you need in a good horse.”  Much of the credit however, deservedly belongs to the two-time Hong Kong champion trainer (2006-07and 2008-09), said triumphant rider Prebble.  “It was a super training performance by Caspar and I’m sure he had a lot of sleepless nights about his decision to take off the blinkers for this race,” said Prebble, who himself was collecting his third KrisFlyer title following his 2009 win with Sacred Kingdom and last year’s win aboard Lucky Nine.  “But it was a winning decision and credit to Caspar. Taking them off did the job tonight.”

With 10 wins from 29 rides astride of Lucky Nine, the Australian hoop is as familiar as anyone with the talented speedball, but had his doubts about the decision to remove the headgear, as blinkers seemed to have done the trick in rectifying his mount’s poor starts in recent months and Prebble had been pleased with the result after Lucky Nine’s one-length second to Charles The Great in last month’s Group 2 Sprint Cup (1200m) back home in Hong Kong.  “He was sluggish and difficult to get him out so that’s why we put them on,” he said. “If you jump and you’re one length behind, it’s a length you have to make up. It was lovely to be able to jump on par with the other horses.  He seems to have gotten out of that habit and he seems a happy horse.”

As any trainer worth his salt will tell you, a happy horse usually translates into a winning one. And there was only one winner in this race once Lucky Nine, who travelled handily close to the rails behind leader Captain Obvious, was given the signal to let loose by Prebble down the straight with the winning post looming.  “After the rain stopped, it meant that there was enough cushion in the ground which he likes,” he said. “He’s the best horse in the field. I couldn’t wait to push the button because I knew what I have underneath me.”  The expected challenge from his main rivals, the reigning Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen (1200m) champion and favourite Sterling City (Joao Moreira, finishing fifth) and Lion City Cup winner and local sprint star Zac Spirit, never materialised and it was left instead to the Stephen Gray-trained Emperor Max, coming off the back of two losses, to take up the challenge, albeit in vain.

“This feels like winning the race. It’s mixed emotions, but yet so exciting,” said trainer Stephen Gray. “Zac rode him perfectly, but Lucky Nine was just too good.  “He’s done everything we have asked of him. Just three weeks ago, everybody was pretty down after he pulled up so tired from his race (Lion City Cup when second to Zac Spirit).  But we hand-walked him for weeks just to change things up. We walked and walked him and then we put the saddle back on him and he started to pick up again.”

Race Replay

KrisFlyer Sprint – Jockey Comments

1.  Lucky Nine – Brett Prebble – The first thing I want to say is what a super training performance from Caspar. A great performance, great horse, great trainer. We all know he’s been sluggish out of the gates, but we’ve got him out of that habit. He’s now a happy horse, willing to jump evenly and it’s lovely when you get away on par. He loved the cushion in the track and basically he was the best horse in the race.

2.  Emperor Max – Zac Purton – He ran exceptionally well. He turned the tables on the best local horses but Lucky Nine is really world class and we couldn’t match him.

3.  Zac Spirit – Alan Munro – He got upset at the start before the race and that didn’t help. In the circumstances he’s run well but I’m a bit disappointed as on form he’s got the beating of the second horse.

4.  Captain Obvious – Oscar Chavez – Outclassed but he tried his best.

5.  Sterling City – Joao Moreira – I got him into a good position, midfield, but he didn’t want to travel at all. He didn’t give me the kick that he usually does. He was disappointing.

6.  El Padrino – Danny Beasley – I was running flat out from the time I jumped. He made a little bit of late ground. KrisFlyer’s are another level up from what we normally run at.

7.  Slew Of Lode – John Powell – He can’t run those times in a 1200m race. He ran well but he’s just not at that class just yet.

8.  Goal Keeper – Barend Vorster – He was off the bridle the whole way. He ran up to his best.

9.  Balmoral Mast – Colm O’Donoghue – Happy with his position in the running but he was never really travelling on the ground. He’s been around the world and maybe he needs a break.

SIA Cup

Hong Kong trainer John Moore cited the luck of the draw after he lifted his second consecutive Singapore Airlines International Cup trophy with Dan Excel, while last year’s winner and overwhelming favourite Military Attack had to settle for third.  Despite his chequered form since his dominant Singapore win last year, most experts had made Military Attack the Australian trainer’s front-runner in this year’s renewal of the $3 million International Group 1 race over 2000m, ahead of his runner-up that night, Dan Excel.  However, it was the perennial bridesmaid who turned the tables on him to earn the thicker end of the prize money in an emotionally-charged victory.

Moore, a regular visitor at the SIA Cup meeting over the years, was over the moon he had become the second trainer after Herman Brown (Jay Peg in 2008 and Gitano Hernando in 2011) to bag two SIA Cups, and further fuelling the rapid rise of Hong Kong on the world racing scene. One race earlier in the KrisFlyer International Sprint (1200m), Lucky Nine had scored back-to-back wins in the sprint sister race for his Sha Tin colleague Caspar Fownes, making it the second year in a row that the former British colony hogs both events.

But the 64-year-old Moore received the reverse of the result most had expected.  “Dan Excel was always the underdog, the bridesmaid, but he drew the right gate. He had barrier No 1 and he just enjoyed a ground-saving run on the rails throughout,” said Moore.  “Military Attack had to be used very early to get across from his wide draw and he was not the same at the finish.  Had he drawn a gate from 1 to 3, I think he would have finished a lot closer. It was still a great run considering he was drawn wide and they broke the record.”

Ridden by Tommy Berry, Dan Excel hugged the rails in third throughout the race, while Japanese flyer Tokei Halo (Hirofumi Shii) bolted off to a commanding lead coming into the backstraight, despite jumping from stall nine. Coming from even further out in No 10, but not blessed with the same gate speed, Military Attack (Joao Moreira) had to work in the early stages of the race to try and get some cover in midfield, but ended up travelling one off in sixth.

Singapore challenger Wild Geese (A’Isisuhairi Kasim) led charge of the chasing pack, but was shortening strides by the 800m, leaving the Moore pair of Military Attack and Dan Excel to eat into the leader’s margin, with Tokei Halo holding sway with plenty of resolve at the head of affairs.  However, once Berry released the handbrake, it was soon evident which of the stable mates was making the most headway.

Dan Excel swept past Tokei Halo with relative ease , with Military Attack seeming somewhat flat-footed despite Moreira’s urgings.  However, he was knocked off balance slightly when Limario (Patrick Dobbs) veered sharply to the outside,  while Dan Excel powered away, unobstructed, with Berry even taking a look at the giant screen to make sure there was no last-minute surprise looming.

There was one other serious challenge in French runner Smoking Sun (Stephane Pasquier), who had dawdled at the rear while they rolled along up ahead, before circling out four wide and unleashing a blinding run from the 400m in a bid to give trainer Pascal Bary a second SIA Cup win after Gloria De Campeao in 2009.  However, he had left it too late.  Dan Excel was already out of reach and kept surging ahead to cross the line first,  1 ¾-length clear of a gallant Smoking Sun and shaving 0.15 seconds Gloria De Campeao’s record of 1min 59.22secs (1min 59.07secs) in the process.

Dan Excel, an Irish-bred six-year-old by Shamardal was also securing his second Group 1 success after he won the Champions Mile (1600m) at Sha Tin last year.  Military Attack, who was backed down to $9 favouritism, plugged on for third another 1 ½ lengths away, two lengths ahead of Tokei Halo.  English galloper Side Glance (Jaime Spencer) must also be credited with a good run after coming from last to finish fifth, 6 ½ lengths off the winner, but all honours to Dan Excel, Moore, Berry and the Hong Kong-based Australian owner David Boehm, who besides Dan Excel’s second last year, also came up short four years ago when Happy Zero ran third to Green Birdie in the KrisFlyer.

“I’m really happy for Tommy as we all know he went through really difficult times in the last month or so with the passing of his brother Nathan,” said Moore.  “Joao rides for the team, but Tommy also rides a lot for us. I’m also very delighted for the owner David Boehm as he really deserves an overseas Group 1 win with this horse.”  A teary-eyed Berry had his late brother Nathan, who recently passed away from a rare brain condition after riding for two weeks in Singapore in March, uppermost in his thoughts as he stepped up for the post-race interviews, a place he last visited last November when he won the Group 1 Longines Singapore Gold Cup (2200m) aboard Tropaios in brilliant fashion.

“This win here in Singapore is very important as this is where Nathan last rode and he really enjoyed himself here,” said the young Australian who is really stamping himself as a big race rider wherever he goes (besides Tropaios, he also boasts multiple Group 1 wins with Designs Of Rome in Hong Kong where he is currently licensed).  “There was a big butterfly that I saw in the mounting yard and he followed me on the way to the gates. Nathan was with me tonight.  This horse is not so young anymore, but he always toughs it out and after his last run when he was caught four wide and still ran second to Variety Club in the Champions Mile, I told John he should go to Singapore, and he told me he was and I was riding him.  I’m so thankful to John and the whole team for the opportunity. The race panned out beautifully from the inside draw for him and he really raced like a good horse.  I just let him cruise to the lead at the top of the straight. It’s a win I won’t forget.  Thank you to the Singapore Turf Club for giving me the opportunity to ride here and also for being so great to Nathan while he was here.”

Among the beaten brigade, the mood was morose, though Bary was drawing some positives from Smoking Sun’s late flourish, and had vowed to come back to Singapore.  “I’m happy and disappointed at the same time. It was a very good run, but it’s always a let-down when you finish second,” said the leading French trainer.  “He ran three wide and he ran on well. There are no excuses, but at least, we beat the favourite. We will be back.”

The Japanese camp seemed pleased with Tokei Halo’s fourth place, though one could sense a feeling of “what if” in their post-race reaction.  Said Shigehisa Tanabe, racing manager for the owner Nobuhiko Kimura: “He ran well.  That is his style.  But he was fighting on the bit.  If he had settled better, I think he could have run better.”

With that sixth win from 36 starts, Dan Excel has seen his bank swollen from a total of S$3.5 million to around S$5.1 million for Boehm.

Race Replay

SIA Cup Jockey Comments

1.  Dan Excel – Tommy Berry – He showed tonight that he’s a better horse with the winkers on and I was confident when he was bouncing out of his skin coming through the tunnel onto the track. He travelled a lot stronger than I expected. He was tough right through the line.

2.  Smoking Sun – Stephane Pasquier – The draw did not help him. I think this track is a bit too sharp for him. He’s a big striding horse, but he ran well and in the final two furlongs was running on really well but by then I couldn’t get to the winner.

3.  Military Attack – Joao Moreira – We got a bump at the start which didn’t help and it was always going to be tough to get the right trip from the draw. I think he still ran well under the circumstances. Dan Excel was the better horse on the day.

4.  Tokei Halo – Hirofumi Shii – He was a bit too keen for me down the back stretch and didn’t finish off. It was still a good run.

5.  Side Glance – Jamie Spencer – 5th – He can miss the start at times, but he broke OK today. The plan was to ride him quietly and he finished off pretty well into fifth.

6.  Si Sage – David Flores – He started a bit slowly, but relaxed with me and he made a bit of a run when I asked him. It was tough but I was happy with him.

7.  Mull Of Killough – Damien Oliver – We settled off midfield, probably further back than I wanted. He couldn’t hold a position when they ran quickly early. We followed the favourite but he just lacked the acceleration to give himself a winning hope.

8.  Limario – Patrick Dobbs – I knew at the start he had got too wound up and he was too keen with me all the way around. I was in a good position but he had nothing left.

9.  Johnny Guitar – Barend Vorster – I was on the winner’s tail. Had a great run into the race. The others were too good.

10.  City Lad – Soo Khoon Beng – He was too keen and just wouldn’t settle. The set-weights was certainly no advantage for him.

11.  Tropaios – Zac Purton – I had a nice position on the rails, but he just wasn’t good enough.

12.  Wild Geese – A’Isisuhairi Kasim – He pulled too hard early. He was just too keen, wanting to charge through the bridle.

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