Hard-marking Peters sets bar high for duo to earn Group 1 spot

English trainer James Peters is waiting for this weekend’s races to decide if Group 1 bidders Skywalk and Nova Vocal will press on towards their lofty missions the week after.

Nova Vocal runs in the $45,000 Class 4 Non Premier over 1200m on Friday and Skywalk is lining up in the  $100,000 Kranji Stakes B Division 1 over 1200m on Sunday.

Skywalk is entered in the $1 million Group 1 Lion City Cup (1200m) and Nova Vocal is entered in the $1 million Group 1 Singapore Guineas (1600m), the two supporting acts to the $1.5 million Invitational Group 1 Kranji Mile (1600m) on May 26. Peters has no runners in the Kranji Mile.

Nova Vocal (Craig Grylls) in full flight at his debut win in Restricted Maiden company, picture Singapore Turf Club

Between the pair, Skywalk, a four-year-old by Battle Paint, is by far more proven having won five from 13 starts, up to Kranji Stakes A level and is a handy bivalent galloper surface-wise.

Still, on 89 points, the China Horse Club-owned gelding will be out of the handicap, up to 23 pounds off the highest-rated Lion City Cup contender Countofmontecristo.

The Lion City Cup – due to become an International Group 1 race along with the Kranji Mile - is a weight-for-age event and is the third Leg of the Singapore Sprint Series. They all carry 57kgs, except for three-year-olds and females who get 1.5kgs shaved off.

Skywalk ran eighth in the first Leg, the only handicap race of the three, the Group 3 JBBA Rocket Man Sprint (1200m) on April 1 – and he had 51.5kgs on his back.

Nova Vocal, an Irish-bred three-year-old by Vocalised, has more upsides, looking at his record of one win (in Restricted Maiden company) and one second from as many starts, but Peters is not sure he can measure up if thrown off the deep end in the third Leg of the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge, let alone make the cut.

The only silver lining is the weight relief. Being a Northern Hemisphere-bred, Nova Vocal gets only 53kgs compared to 57kgs to their Southern Hemisphere-bred counterparts.

Weights and measures aside, Peters said the real acid test is this weekend’s outings.

“They’re both in good form, but they will both have to perform really well this weekend to get a run next week. I haven’t even got a jockey in mind for them yet,” said the down-to-earth handler.

“Skywalk will only run if he wins well on Sunday. If he can’t win a Kranji Stakes B, he won’t be running in a Group 1 race.

“Likewise for Nova Vocal. He’s a late three-year-old, but we entered him in the Guineas as the owner was quite keen. After all, he’s put in two very good runs, even if he drew one at both.

“You turn three only once, but he also would have to run really well on Friday to be considered.”

Nova Vocal, a horse purchased by former Kranji-based Irish trainer Danny Murphy (of Terfel fame), was indeed very impressive at his debut win in a Restricted Maiden race over 1100m on Polytrack on April 8.

He franked that form with a fighting second to Boy Wonder in a Novice race over 1200m one week later. He was ridden by Craig Grylls on both occasions, with the Kiwi again aboard on Friday night.

“I backed him up after seven days. It was a solid race and that’s why I backed him off,” said Peters of the only horse he trains for the Nova Racing Stable for the time being.

“He had an easy time and has come back good. He trialled well a couple of weeks ago (second to Hooga Net on May 3).

“He hasn’t drawn well this time (11), but he’s in good form, and we’ll see how he goes. It’ll be a good guide to his chances of running in the Guineas.”

Skywalk had no better luck at the barriers having drawn 13. He will be ridden by Vlad Duric.