Singaporean trainer Desmond Koh secured the biggest win of his career when he took out the $1.15 million Group 1 Emirates Singapore Derby (2000m) with Chase Me on Sunday.
In a relatively young career spanning seven years, the US-trained conditioner had just one Group 1 win to his resume, the Patron’s Bowl with Phenom in 2008, but has come close a few times, and none as prestigious as Eclair Fastpass’s second to Rocket Man in the Group 1 KrisFlyer International Sprint in 2010.
The Derby also happened to be another one that had got away previously when big mare New Rose Wood ran a three-part-of-a-length second to Race Ahead in 2010.
But Chase Me, a horse he had prepared specifically for the Derby, the third and final Leg of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge, for some time, finally handed him a victory in one of Singapore’s feature races.
Joao Moreira and Chase Me are victorious in the Group 1 Emirates Singapore Derby on Sunday
The New Zealand-bred by Storm Creek had begun his racing career in unassuming company, scoring in maiden company in 2010 before suddenly showing untapped potential over more ground in Class 4 company with a race-to-race double over 1400m and 1600m for jockey Jose Verenzuela at the end of last year.
That was when Koh started plotting a path over middle-distance races for the Super Trio Stable-owned galloper, leading to a resounding success with apprentice Koh Teck Huat over 1800m in an Open race, which suddenly turned him into a possible Derby prospect.
Two closing runs in the first two Legs of the 4YO Challenge, the Stewards’ Cup over 1400m (fourth) and the Patron’s Bowl over 1600m (fifth), had him nicely primed for Sunday’s Derby, and the way he ran his rivals ragged in the end certainly testified to that.
Settled by leading jockey Joao Moreira in the first half of the field, Chase Me galloped between runners behind the steady tempo set by race leader Red Beard (Opie Bosson), who however could not cross with Joyful Heart Man (Soo Khoon Beng) holding his position on the rails.
The pace suddenly picked up from the 800m where Moreira also decided to take closer order aboard Chase Me. Finding clear galloping room on the outside, Chase Me was sent widest to be the first to greet the judge at the corner.
In one fell swoop, Chase Me pinched a commanding break of three lengths on the pack, and while one of the well-fancied runners Deep Pockets (Danny Beasley) and stablemate Arowana Dot Com (Saifudin Ismail) tried valiantly to peg him back, the bird had already flown.
Chase Me kept racing strongly to the line to score by a widening margin of eight lengths from Deep Pockets with Arowana Dot Com settling for third another 3 ½ lengths away. The winning time was 2mins 4.63secs on the yielding track.
Trainer Desmond Koh (centre) flanked by owner Tan Huat, jockey Joao Moreira and the lovely Emirates girls following Sunday's Emirates Singapore Derby
A highly-emotional Koh could barely find words at the post-race presentation as he choked several times when interviewed by race presenter Matthew Jones. When he was able to compose himself better, Koh said the Derby was a race he had always wanted to win since he began training at Kranji.
“I finished second with New Rose Wood in 2010. Finally, I’ve broken my duck in that race,” he said.
“This horse is a slow developer and it’s only in the last year or so that I’ve decided that he could be my Derby horse.
“Joao came along and he has always had a lot of confidence in that horse. We’ve worked closely together since, just like we worked together with New Rose Wood in the Singapore Gold Cup two years ago.
“I’ve stepped him up in his work gradually and I was really happy with the way he has been running on in the first two Legs.
“To finish one-and-three in the Derby, it doesn’t get any better than that. I always knew Arowana Dot Com had the 2000m, but his draw wasn’t so good and he overcame that to show how good he was.
“This is by far the biggest win of my career. This is what makes training horses all worth it.”
Moreira, who with that first Derby success was bringing up his second consecutive five-timer after last Friday night’s, was just as lost for words at the winner’s circle.
“It’s amazing how my luck in feature races has turned around this year. Previously I was struggling to win them,” said Moreira, who was already at his eighth Group win for the year, having won five with Super Easy, including the Group 3 Paititi Gold Trophy four races earlier on Sunday.
“I knew this horse could stay after he ran sixth in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup back in April. None of the horses in that race were in the Derby today and I was very confident he would run a good race.
“There was a bit of interference at the first bend and I was glad he had been able to stay out of trouble.
“After that, I was very happy with where he was in the running. He was travelling so well at the 800m that I had to let him go.
“When he took the lead at the top of the straight, the feeling was just unbelievable. I didn’t bother looking back, as all I wanted was to send him straight to the line.
“This is a horse I’ve always wanted to ride in the Derby. When Des offered me the ride I said yes straightaway as I didn’t want to get on any other horse.
“Thanks to Des and the owners for giving me the ride. He was so well prepared by Des for that race.”
With that Derby win, Chase Me has brought his record to six wins and eight placings from 23 starts and his stakes earnings to around $900,000.
Though Deep Pockets had to settle for second, his jockey was extremely happy with the effort and said he had just run into a better horse on the day.
“He ran super. We were just beaten by the better horse on the day,” said Beasley.
“We just couldn’t hold our position in the run to the first turn and got a little further back than I would have liked, but there was a solid pace all the way.
“From the half-mile (800m) we had a great run and I got a good run through the field, but by the time we were fully clear, Joao was off and running.
“Congratulations must go to Joao. He’s had 10 winners over the weekend and he was really deserving of this Derby win.
“He’s a champion rider and one of the best that I’ve ever ridden against.”