Tough-as-nails sprinter Mr Big is back in business as he makes his much-awaited racing comeback in the $125,000 Open Class race over 1100m on Polytrack on Sunday.
The Elusive Quality four-year-old has not reappeared since his brave second to Ato in the International Group 1 KrisFlyer International Sprint (1200m) last May. The former juvenile champion was being hailed the winner when he boldly took the lead at the top of the straight, but Ato was just too good on that night as he swept past to score by 1 ½ lengths for a Singapore one-two result.
Trainer Michael Freedman gave his $900,000 (boosted by the $200,000 KrisFlyer prizemoney) earner a well-deserved break after his mighty effort, which included beating three well-credentialled international travellers in Krypton Factor, Secret Asset and Invincible Ash. Currently on holidays in South Africa, the Australian conditioner, who will not return to Singapore until the end of next week, has as usual delegated the No 1 job to his right-hand man James Peters, who was recently granted his assistant-trainer’s licence after starting off as Freedman’s senior track rider in 2008.
Mr Big (Stephen Baster) at one of his seven victories last March, picture Singapore Turf Club
From the Englishman’s glowing report, Mr Big looks all set to resume his march in the same vein as his outstanding record of seven wins and seven placings from 14 starts suggests.
“Mr Big’s in very good form and we’re very happy with the way he has come back,” said Peters.
“He had an easy barrier trial last week (July 24) and won it. It was just what he needed.
“He gets in at a nice weight (52.5kg) in Sunday’s race and has also drawn well (barrier No 3).”
Jockey Stephen Baster, who has been Mr Big’s partner at his last four runs, including a Group 3 win in the Kranji Sprint (1200m) last April, was excited to be reunited with the horse he calls “the little fella with the big heart”.
“He’s going well, he trialled well and he feels well,” said Baster. “There’s not much of him, but he’s so honest and is always thereabouts.
“I think this race will be perfect for him as he’s so well in on weights. He should run a good race again.”
Mr Big, who will face a small field including the likes of Captain Obvious, Yin Xin and a former Malaysian sprinter, Fighter Jet, had stablemate Better Be The One in the handicaps but the son of More Than Ready is staying at the stables in the end.
“He’s (Better Be The One) also come on well but he had a minor racing issue and had to be scratched from Sunday’s race,” said Peters on Better Be The One, who was also in the KrisFlyer line-up but did not fare as well, running sixth more than 11 lengths off the winner.
“There’s nothing wrong with him, but we thought it’s best he skips this race. We will instead look at the Woodlands Handicap for him.”
The Woodlands Handicap is a Group 3 race over 1200m on Polytrack and is scheduled to be run on August 19.
Peters added he was not sure if Mr Big would also be aimed at the race who was taken out by the last two KrisFlyer winners, Rocket Man (2010) and Ato (2011), both prepared by Patrick Shaw.
“We’ll see how Mr Big runs on Sunday,” said Peters. “Michael will then decide where he goes from there.”
Earlier in the day, Mr Big’s colours of yellow and red and blue hooped sleeves will be carried by another runner for the first time, Mr Mani. The four-year-old gelding by Lonhro makes his racing debut for Freedman and the O&T Stable in the $65,000 Initiation race over 1100m on Polytrack and will be ridden by Baster as well.
“We don’t know the horse that well, but his trial was good and he looks in good order,” said Peters. “This race on Sunday looked like the perfect race to start him off.”
Meanwhile, Baster won’t be long in donning racing silks again after Sunday’s races. The popular Australian jockey flies to the Northern Territory city of Darwin on Sunday night to ride Bolton for good mate Stephen Brown in the annual Darwin Cup on Monday.
“My good mate Steve asked me to ride his horse in the Cup. I’ve always enjoyed riding at that meeting,” he said.
“I think he’ll (Bolton) be one of the favourites as he’s run second at his last two starts. I also rode him three times for one win when he campaigned in Melbourne.
“I’ve got another ride on Monday but it’s an Invitational race and they will draw the rides for us.”
The A$185,000 Darwin Cup (2000m), which is traditionally held on the first Monday in August, is the grand finale to the annual month-long racing carnival which never fails to attract top jockeys from interstate and overseas. South African jockey Robbie Fradd won the Darwin Cup in 2010 when he was based at Kranji, famously falling off his winning mount Shout Out Loud after the line.
Last year, Malaysian jockey Saifudin Ismail was invited by the Darwin Turf Club and though the Kranji-based hoop did not win any races, he thoroughly enjoyed his stay in and around Fannie Bay Racecourse.