Countofmontecristo was a bit of a wildcard in the $200,000 Group 3 Jumbo Jet Trophy (1400m) on Sunday, but the former top three-year-old rose to the occasion by upstaging his older and bigger-named rivals, complete with a touch of contempt.
The son of Echoes Of Heaven dominated his peers head and shoulders as a three-year-old, save for the Group 1 Singapore Guineas (1600m), his only defeat in seven starts, when third to Forever Young following a tactically-run race.
After a victorious comeback from his three-year-old campaign in a Benchmark 97 race where he carried only 51.5kgs three weeks ago, and strangely as a standby starter, it was a little surprising when trainer Michael Clements, who already had the classy Alibi in the mix, threw Countofmontecristo in at the deep end in such a weight-for-age event.
Countofmontecristo (Alan Munro) gets the better of his better-fancied rivals in the Group 3 Jumbo Jet Trophy, picture Singapore Turf Club
And against Kranji’s cream of the crop for good measure – War Affair, Debt Collector, Lim’s Cruiser, Majestic Moments, Elite Excalibur and obviously his own stablemate Alibi.
But the Joe Giovanni-owned galloper marched up to turn in a belter of a race, arguably his finest to-date. Showing blistering gate speed under new partner Alan Munro, replacing Glen Boss who was back in Australia to attend his best friend’s wedding, Countofmontecristo ($44) landed in a prominent spot without forcing, but originally trapped three deep.
But as Elite Excalibur (Damian Browne) eased off along with Faaltless (John Powell), Majestic Moments (Nooresh Juglall), who had also speared over from his wide barrier on Countofmontecristo’s inside, wrested the lead in an unfamiliar role.
Munro did not insist, just allowing his mount to coast alongside on Majestic Moment’s outside, just poking his head in front coming down the side, without really applying any pressure, but once they swung for home, Munro threw in his all.
Showing his trademark will to always take the race by the scruff of the neck, Countofmontecristo just went for broke.
No looking back. If someone better nails him, so be it, and it was again that defiant attitude that fended off all comers inside the last 200m.
Alibi (Manoel Nunes) tried hard, but probably short of one run, he could not quite go through his gears once he drew on level terms with his one-year younger stable companion. Elite Excalibur had every chance when the runs came up along the fence, but put in a trifle late.
Same thing goes for a back-in-form Debt Collector (Michael Rodd) who suddenly found his sizzling turn of foot back as he came steaming home from the ruck on the outside, but he had to settle for second place, half-a-length astern from Countofmontecristo, who was clearly the superior horse on the day, thanks to an uninterrupted run at the head of affairs as opposed to some of his less lucky opponents.
Perhaps the unluckiest runner was Lim’s Cruiser (Vlad Duric) who struggled to find daylight behind a wall of horses for most of the home straight. When he did get through, the bird had already flown as he flew home for a meritorious fifth, around three parts of a length away. The winning time was 1min 21.86secs for the 1400m on the Long Course.
Winning connections smile for the camera: (from left) assistant-trainer Michael White, owner Joe Giovanni and jockey Alan Munro, picture Singapore Turf Club
But all honours to Clements’ amazing warrior, who took a chance at elite level and came off racing away from all these heavyweights halfway up the straight to doggedly hold his ground to the wire.
“He’s an absolute superstar,” said assistant-trainer Michael White filling in for Clements at the post-race interview.
“It was his first time running at weight-for-age level. It was as good a race you would ever get, and he was also racing against his natural pattern because of his wide barrier.
“He didn’t win the Singapore Guineas which was not run to suit him, but that’s the past now.
“We will now set him for the Kranji Mile and the Raffles Cup. The Gold Cup is not quite on the radar for him as it would be a big ask at the handicap, but the Derby is definitely for him next year.
“I believe Mike is in South America now, probably Peru. I’m sure he will play the replay and will be rapt with that run.”
Munro was as usual his self-effacing self at the winner’s enclosure, but certainly waxed lyrical about a horse he was only jumping on for a day, in his inimitable style.
“It’s great to have a fast car underneath,” said the English Derby-winning rider who had the ideal pre-race warm-up with a win aboard another Clements, Khudawand (dead-heat with Fuego) in the previous race for a riding double.
“He was actually too keen when he left the gates. He had no cover, but I was able to get him to switch off.
“The great thing about him is he has a tactical advantage on the other horses. He is up there and he still has three or four lengths up his sleeve while those horses at the back also make ground, but they are much further back.
“It’s great to get on such a good horse, but as you know, I’m only deputising for Glen.”
One jockey who was looking forward to jumping back on the same horse in three weeks’ time was Duric.
“It was a massive run. With the blinkers the first time, I rode him quiet,” said Singapore’s leading hoop of the Stephen Gray-trained Lim’s Cruiser’s big run in spite of his chequered run in the home straight.
“We couldn’t get any clear room in the straight, but once he did, he just launched. It’s the perfect lead-up to the Kranji Mile.”
The $700,000 Group 1 Panasonic Kranji Mile (1600m) is the first Leg of the Singapore Triple Crown series, and will be run on October 1.
As for Countofmontecristo, it would seem the sky’s the limit for the gelding with humble origins but who has now already amassed in excess of $660,000 from his record of seven wins and one third from eight starts for Giovanni.