Better Life gives Takaoka a fourth Gold Cup

Japanese handler Hideyuki Takaoka is making a habit of capturing Singapore’s richest domestic race – the Group 1 $1.35 million Longines Singapore Gold Cup over 2200m.

Takaoka landed his fourth win in the Gold Cup in the last five years when Better Life, ridden by Alan Munro, scored by a length from the fast finishing Maurice Utrillo (Barend Vorster) with the favourite Deep Pockets (Joao Moreira) a half-length away third.

The time of 2 min 18.33 secs was around 3.5 secs outside of the track record on the Long Course.

Better Life and Alan Munro, picture Singapore Turf Club

Better Life’s stablemate Mitre Peak (Davy Bonilla) led the race from Flax (Jose Verenzuela) and Cash Luck (Danny Beasley). Munro had Better Life one off the fence running along smoothly in sixth position with cover.

There was little change until the field made their way off the back straight when the pressure started to be applied and the field begun to bunch up turning for home.

Munro had worked his way to the outside by the time the field straightened up and he had clear galloping room to the line.

Better Life showed a tremendous turn of foot to hit the lead at the 400m mark and opened up a break on the chasing pack. Moreira came from that pack on Deep Pockets and challenged gamely but could not peg back the winner until Maurice Utrillo made strong ground down the outside to cut back the margin.

Takaoka said he was ‘just a lucky man’ with Better Life’s Gold Cup victory on top of the wins in the race by El Dorado in 2008, 2009 and 2011.

“I’m just lucky,” said Takaoka. “It is having the right horses.

“This horse can handle any distance. We were a little worried about her jumping in distance today before the race.

“But Alan and I discussed that we would like to race her in a more handy position. It was a great ride by Alan and full credit must go to him.”

Takaoka hatched a plan to win the Gold Cup following the mare’s victory in the Group 1 Panasonic Kranji Mile over 1600m on October 7 and resisted the temptation of running her again in the Group 1 Raffles Cup over 1800m on October 21.

Despite missing the Raffles Cup, Better Life collected a $50,000 bonus for connections for winning two legs of the Singapore Triple Crown – namely the Kranji Mile and the Gold Cup.

Takaoka now has his sights firmly entrenched on winning the Group 1 Emirates Singapore Derby over 2000m next July, a race he won with another mare Jolie’s Shinju in 2009.

Munro, a former Epsom Derby winning jockey, said Better Life was all class.

“She’s got an engine,” said Munro. “I got to the front probably too soon on her but I could hear the others screaming behind me so I thought I had them covered.

“We didn’t know whether she would stay the 2200m as it was quite a step up in distance for her.

“She gave me a great run throughout the race and when she started to run out of petrol in the last 100m I then remembered it was a 2200m race.

“When she got to the front at the top of the straight I was really confident, but the last 100m I was a little worried.

“Still she’s only a young horse and still has her career in front of her.”

A four-year-old mare by Smarty Jones from the Sunday Silence mare Quiet Life, Better Life was an A$150,000 purchase at the Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale.

Sunday’s victory was her sixth from just 10 career starts and the victory took her prizemoney past the $1 million mark for Suzuka Racing.

Vorster, who rode the runner-up Maurice Utrillo, was naturally delighted with the performance of the Irish-bred gelding.

“Honest horses run honest races and this guy has proven that again today,” said Vorster. “I put him to sleep early and dropped him to the rear as I didn’t want to get caught in the early speed battle.

“Halfway up the straight he gave me such a strong kick. I wished he was closer to the lead because he soon got to the end of his run.

“It was still a huge run and I couldn’t be happier with him.”

Jose Vernzuela, who rode the Raffles Cup winner Flax into ninth position, said he had no excuses despite jumping from the widest barrier at the 2200m start.

“I had him in a beautiful spot throughout the race. The pace was just nice and he was travelling so well for me,” said Verenzuela.

“At the 800m coming from the backstretch, I still had a lot of horse under me and I was sure we would win.

“But when another horse came up to us, I knew I was in trouble. I tried to smooch him up as I normally do, but he didn’t have the same turn of foot.

“I didn’t punish him further and just let him drop out. He pulled up well, though, and that’s the main thing.

“I’m happy that Alan Munro has won the race. He’s a very good jockey and the winner is a very smart filly.”