With three days to go before Sunday’s $1.15 Group 1 Emirates Singapore Derby, the atmosphere was fairly relaxed at the Post Position Draw ceremony at Raffles City on Thursday.
The tension to such events can be so thick at times that you can almost cut it with a knife, but with the distance being dropped from 2000m to 1800m this year, the start will be effected down the chute leading up to a 700m run down the back to the first bend, giving runners a bit more leeway to jostle for a good position.
But then, let’s not get into the debate of what makes a “good position” for 16 horses layered with different racing patterns and idiosyncrasies.
A spot which affords the most energy-saving run coupled with the ideal tactical scenario is after all still desirable. The main players still held their breath as the various connections walked up to draw their numbers under the magnificent Emirates aeroplane models.
There were some sighs of relief, not as many frowns, mostly neutral expressions, but if there was to be a prize given for the widest grin, it would go hands-down to Japanese trainer Hideyuki Takaoka, especially when we remember how he was given the carpark with the same horse, Jupiter Gold, in last year’s Dester Singapore Gold Cup. He will be at the other end this time.
Trainer Ricardo Le Grange, on the other hand, was in less jubilant mood with his sole Derby runner Yulong Honor drawing the outermost alley in 17, continuing his luckless run at the barriers with three of his four two-year-olds in Friday’s Group 2 Aushorse Golden Horseshoe picking double-digits barriers.
The South African trainer has been there and done that, though, and was copping it on the chin as best he can. At the end of the day, races are won on grass come crunch time – not from a hat.
JUPITER GOLD – Barrier No 1
“I’m very happy with gate No 1. Last year, we had no luck in the Gold Cup,” said trainer Hideyuki Takaoka who performed both draws himself.
“The 1800m is a question mark. At least, with a ground-saving run, he will have a better chance to go the distance.”
Jockey Olivier Placais said on face value the inside draw is a positive, but when he found out who will be jumping to his outside, his mood was less buoyant.
“It’s better than 17 any day, but the horses on my outside are not the best horses in the field,” said the French rider.
“I’m just a bit worried he may get boxed in and if they start to drop back on us, we may not get going.
“I will discuss with Takaoka, but I think from that draw, I will be positive but not aggressive. I don’t want to burn too much petrol, even if I personally believe he can stay.
“Ideally, we won’t be too far behind the leaders. I may even get off the rails so I don’t get boxed in – take a one-off spot, we’ll see.”
GOLD CITY and MAGNIFICENT GOLD (EA1) – Barriers No 2 & 10
“Both horses drew well. Both are fit and healthy, it’d be lovely if Magnificent Gold could get a run, but he’s an Emergency Acceptor unfortunately,” said trainer Cliff Brown.
“It’s a shame Could Be Pearls won’t run. We had to withdraw him as he had surgery to his fetlock this week.”
Jockey A’Isisuhairi Kasim will be at his first sit on Gold City and couldn’t be happier with the low draw.
“I’m very happy with that draw. He should have a good run from there,” said the former two-time Singapore champion apprentice jockey who won the Group 1 Raffles Cup aboard the late Gilt Complex for Brown last year.
“I’ve never ridden him but I’ve seen his runs and I can tell he’s a horse who’s really improved this year.”
Felix's feli-City: Trainer Cliff Brown's son Felix brings his lucky charm to Gold City: Marble No 2.
YULONG XIONG HU and CLAUDIA’S BEAUTY – Barriers No 3 & 13
“They have both got good barriers, can’t complain,” said trainer Leslie Khoo who is still chasing that elusive first Group win after 10 years at Kranji.
“Both horses are in good shape. They were prepared for this race and it’s hard to split them.
“I’m only worried about the rain. They don’t handle wet tracks.”
COUNTOFMONTECRISTO, ZA’EEM and ONLY WIN – Barriers No 4, 8 & 16
“It’s a good draw for Countofmontecristo. He should be able to run his usual race from there,” said trainer Michael Clements who sounded overall satisfied with his draws even if Only Win will be posted wide.
“For Za’eem, it’ll be hard for him at the weights. We’re throwing him in at the deep end against horses of this calibre.
“It’d be better if it’s a bit wet on the day. He’s got a good barrier and will probably settle just behind the leaders.
“Only Win is actually better suited on the outside. Like I’ve said before, he didn’t track up too well early when he is on the rails, he might be better off on the outside.
“It’s a long straight down the back to the first turn, anyway. He will have more time to settle down, and it’s his style of racing to settle off the pace anyway.”
Hats off: Owner Joe Giovanni seems pleased with barrier No 4 for Countofmontecristo.
NEPEAN and MR EXCHEQUER – Barriers No 5 & 11
“Mr Exchequer is a bit wide but if the Emergency Acceptor doesn’t get in, he will drop back to 10,” said trainer Shane Baertschiger.
“There is a long straight of around 600m to the first turn. He should be able to get into a nice posie in midfield.
“Five is just nice for Nepean as he has more speed and that suits him. He will be up there with the speed.
“Both horses are in good condition and it would be nice if it rains as both horses like some give in the ground.”
LIM’S REGARD, ELITE INVINCIBLE and KINGSMAN – Barriers No 6, 9 & 12
Contrary to Baertschiger, champion trainer Mark Walker would not be doing a rain dance in the coming days. Except for Kingsman who does not mind a bit of sting out of the ground, Triple Crown-bidder and likely favourite Elite Invincible and Lim’s Regard prefer firm going.
“I hope it stays dry until Sunday. Elite Invincible had two go’s and went no good and it will also be a totally different picture for Lim’s Regard if it rains,” said Walker.
“Kingsman can handle rain-affected tracks, but he is a slight query over the 1800m. Yes, he stormed home over the mile in the Charity Bowl, but there’s a big difference between 1600m and 1800m.
“It’s a question mark until he goes over it. I’m not worried about the trip for the other two, they can stay no problem.
“With regards to their barriers, Lim’s Regard has drawn six. I haven’t spoken to Mr Lim (Siah Mong) yet, but that’s the way he races and he will probably go forward.
“Elite Invincible will have plenty of options out there. He’s better off one out that being tucked away on the fence. For Kingsman, 12 makes no difference really, it’s just the trip query.”
Dressed to the nines: Racing presenter Nicholas Child gets champion jockey Vlad Duric's take on
drawing barrier No 9 for Elite Invincible.
LIM’S MAGIC and SKY ROCKET – Barriers No 7 & 15
“It’s not so good for Sky Rocket, but it’s okay for Lim’s Magic. We’ll just take it as it is and hope for the best,” said trainer Stephen Gray.
“Lim’s Magic should be able to get a nice run with cover from there. Hopefully he gets the trip.
“He has improved and is 100% over his heel issue after his last run in the Charity Bowl. We’ve fixed it and he’s a promising young horse.
“The other horse (Sky Rocket) is also a nice young horse. He will roll forward from the wide draw as he has natural speed.
“If the Derby was still run over 2000m, I would say he’s got no chance from that barrier. It used to be a short run-up to the first turn.
“He’s got a better chance over 1800m with the nice long run down the back. It’s a big positive and it’s fair for everyone.
“In saying this, I’m not a great fan of seeing the Derby run over 1800m as it doesn’t suit all horses distance-wise, but it’s okay barrier-wise if you are drawn out.”
AOTEAROA – Barrier No 14
“She’s drawn off the track, but I’m not too worried about that. Nothing you can do, but it’s a long run from the 1800m start and I’m sure she’ll be able to find a good position,” said trainer Lee Freedman who trains the Sakhee’s Secret mare for former nine-time Singapore champion trainer Laurie Laxon.
“She’s in good form, has been racing well, and that’s all that really matters.”
Plane sailing: Trainer Lee Freedman picks barrier no 14 for Aotearoa.
YULONG HONOR – Barrier No 17
“Yulong Honor is a more forward type of horse. He runs his best races when up on the pace,” said trainer Ricardo Le Grange.
“It’s a tricky barrier, but we’ll have to see the conditions on the day. For now, we’ll just have to accept the cards we’re dealt.”
Sweet seventeen: Owner Khoo Lay Chin (wife of Eric Koh) and son Julien don't look too upset with
barrier No 17 for Yulong Honor (of course Julien doesn't mind, he got a new toy!).