Trainer Bruce Marsh’s three-pronged attack in last Sunday’s Group 2 Stewards’ Cup produced a two-horse finish on the podium, the winner Gingerbread Man and third-placed Hammer Down.
But the New Zealand handler may have one more four-year-old up his sleeve for the remaining Legs of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge, the Group 1 Patron’s Bowl (1600m) on June 24 and the Group 1 Emirates Singapore Derby (2000m) on July 15 – comeback kid Red Beard.
After a six-month spell, the lightly-raced galloper is making his much-awaited racing comeback in the Open Benchmark 89 race over 1100m on Polytrack on Sunday.
Red Beard and Opie Bosson at his last start on January 1st, picture Singapore Turf Club.
At this stage, the Derby remains the main objective for the New Zealand-bred son of 2004 Japan Cup winner Zenno Rob Roy but Marsh needs to work on his talented charge’s surplus girth first.
Not seen since his slashing win – from another freshen-up – in a Class 3 race over 1400m on New Year’s Day, Red Beard faces another challenge – first test over the Polytrack at his seventh start, following an impressive Singapore record of five wins from six starts, all run on turf.
“He’s been away after he’s had a muscle complaint shortly after his last win,” said Marsh. “I’ve brought him back gradually and though he’s still pretty burly, he is ready to get back to racing.
“It will be his first run over Polytrack, but I didn’t have any other options. Hopefully he handles the track all right.”
After his debut win in a Restricted Maiden race over 1200m on April 17, 2011, Red Beard, who races in the famous red and yellow colours of prominent owner Auric Stable, strung up a three-in-a-row (1200m to 1400m) before he tasted his first defeat.
Being by a Japan Cup (2400m) winner and having shown an inclination for more ground, Red Beard was unsurprisingly stepped up to 1600m at his fourth start. Though he did nothing wrong in that Progress race, knuckling down to the task inside the last 300m, he just found handy sorts like Ready To Strike and Meteor Mike too good to run third.
That was when Marsh thought the time was right for a first break.
“He was blowing after his last race at his first prep and I thought I’d just tip him out to give him more time to mature, to strengthen up,” recalled Marsh.
“He’s a lovely horse and we didn’t want to rush him. That time away has done him a world of good.”
Red Beard returned four months later in impeccable order and duly delivered with two more wins, both at Class 3 level over 1200m and 1400m, which was that last-start win on January 1 before he was sidelined again, but this time on medical grounds.
The unplanned break certainly threw a curveball to his Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge plans, but despite the setback, Marsh is still hoping for a berth in the third Leg of the Challenge and jewel in the crown, the Singapore Derby in six week’s time.
“With his ability, you would think he would make a nice Derby horse. That was always his target since last year,” said the New Zealand-born conditioner.
“It’s just that he’s still fat and I think he may need the run on Sunday. But we needed to get his fitness back on track and that race will bring him on.
“I will then be able to gauge how he is going and whether to press on with the Derby. We’ll play it by ear.”
New Zealand jockey Opie Bosson, who begins his reviewed licence as a freelance jockey (used to ride only for Marsh and Mark Walker) on Friday, reunites with Red Beard, one of the two winners who handed him a riding double at his first day of his current stint in Singapore.