Trainer John O’Hara will take his promising trio of Emerald Hill, Flash Gift and Makkura to the next level in their bid to keep their unbeaten record intact this weekend.
Emerald Hill, picture Singapore Turf Club
Sharing a record of seven wins from as many starts between them, the threesome will be looking to extend their dream run this Friday (Emerald Hill and Makkura) and Sunday (Flash Gift), but all against stronger company.
O’Hara, who is three winners away from equalling his best score of 20 wins established last year, has barring Ghozi maybe, never really had any headline acts under his barn roof in his three seasons since taking over from Charles Leck at Kranji.
The experienced Singaporean handler is not getting carried away, though, as he has seen many “next big things” rise and fall in his 20 years working with thoroughbreds.
“They have all shown promise, but let’s see how they take the next step-up first,” said O’Hara.
“They’re all running against horses that are a lot stronger this time, and also over more ground. It will be a real test for all three.”
Arguably the most impressive of the three, Emerald Hill, a three-time winner (1000m to 1100m) who can however be a hothead behind the barriers, will tackle a handy Class 2 field in a 1200m race on Polytrack on Friday. To be ridden by regular partner Saifudin Ismail, the Sharp Humor four-year-old, whose combined winning margins add up to 13 lengths, will face the likes of Speedy Cat (five wins and three seconds from eight runs), Emblessed (looking for a four-in-a-row) and in-form last-start winners like Cash Dot Com, My Son and Niceone, carrying only 52.5kg.
“I’ve always wanted to find something slightly longer for him,” said O’Hara of the Saratoga Stable-owned US-bred sprinter. “With horses like Speedy Cat and Emblessed in the race, we will now know where he really stands.
“He’s still a handful behind the gates, but he’s also improved a fair bit. Still, he can’t afford to get it wrong against much smarter horses this time.”
Facing the starter on the same night will be Makkura, whose two wins (1000m and 1200m) in Class 4 company were admittedly recorded in a hardscrabble style which however underscored her unbending resilience.
A New Zealand-bred four-year-old mare by Falkirk raced by the Toast Trust No 27 Stable and Stephen Crutchley, her former trainer in New Zealand, Makkura will graduate to a moderate Class 3 company over 1200m.
The on-pace runner scored from barrier No 2 at both wins but also won from a wide alley (11) at her only race in New Zealand, in a 1200m event at the Awapuni racecourse, which is very similar to Kranji.
“She’s well and she trialled well last Tuesday when fourth to Mr Big,” said her trainer. “I just hope she takes her trial form to the races.”
Makkura will again be ridden by her winning partner, South African jockey Greg Cheyne, who seems to have forged a healthy association with O’Hara as he is Flash Gift’s rider as well.
Also a US-bred raced by the Saratoga Stable, the three-year-old by Lawyer Ron, who has saluted at his two runs on Polytrack, the first (1100m) at Initiation level and the second (1000m) at Class 4 level, will be stepped up to 1200m in a Graduation event on Sunday.
O’Hara, who has also entered My Prerogative in that race, said Flash Gift was without doubt “gifted”, but had been up to now doing it on raw ability.
“He’s (Flash Gift) still learning what racing is all about, but he’s not without ability,” he said. “He’s racing over a little longer (1200m) this time, which I think will suit him better.
“He’s also well handicapped against the other Southern Hemisphere-bred three-year-olds as they will turn four on Wednesday."