In a major blow to his legion of fans, triple Singapore Gold Cup winner El Dorado will not be able to have a crack at becoming the new all-time “winningest” record holder of the time-honoured race after an untimely injury forced him into early retirement.
The Japanese-bred gelding by Stay Gold equalled the 54-year-old record held by Three Rings when he captured last year’s renewal of the $1.35 million Group 1 Longines-sponsored race over 2,200m for the third time after 2008 and 2009. He was ridden by Australian jockey Ronnie Stewart at all three wins.
El Dorado was coming along nicely for a tilt at the absolute record on November 11, as evidenced by his encouraging fifth to Chase Me in the Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy (1800m) last July. But his plans to rewrite the history books were dealt a cruel twist of fate when he fractured his near fore pastern during trackwork last Wednesday.
El Dorado (Ronnie Stewart) scores his third Singapore Gold Cup win last November.
Vets were able to mend the fracture by inserting three screws during an emergency operation held on the same day later in the afternoon, and though the prognosis for a return to racing was fairly good, connections decided not to take any risk.
“He owed us nothing. He’s already won three Gold Cups and together with the owner, Mr Masa Otani, we decided his welfare was more important than breaking records,” said trainer Hideyuki Takaoka.
“They told us many horses have come back from this type of injury, but he’s already eight years old and at his age, we thought it would be better to just retire him.
“We will give him six months to recover after which Mr Otani would like to send him to his farm in Hokkaido in Japan to retire.”
Takaoka said he already knew something was amiss when he saw El Dorado pulling up “a bit scratchy” after his Wednesday gallop on Polytrack.
“I knew something was wrong. He normally hangs in in the home straight, but he was hanging in even more on that day,” he said.
“After the line, he pulled up a bit scratchy. His rider Ryo Hatano kept him going to the backstraight before trotting him back to the tunnel onto the rubber, and it wasn’t so obvious then.
“But once he got back onto the road, I was worried again. He was very sore and Ryo jumped off straightaway.
“He could not walk. We had his near fore X-rayed and the fracture was very clear.
“They did the operation right away. Luckily it was successful and I’m so glad he will recover as I’m so proud of this horse.”
The Japanese handler, who had been targeting this Sunday’s Group 3 Committee’s Prize over 1600m as El Dorado’s next outing, was devastated the charmed run had come to an end, more so when the signs were looking good.
“I was very happy with his last run in the Chairman’s Trophy. He was coming on really good, but he was probably not suited by the 1800m trip,” said Takaoka.
“His next races were the Committee’s Prize and then the Raffles Cup (1800m on October 21). That’s the way to get him ready, but unfortunately, it’s all over now.”
The eight-year-old veteran might have been getting on in years, but his affinity for the 2,200m classic was not only due to his dyed-in-the-wool staying abilities, but also to a preparation specially-tailored by Takaoka towards that famous Gold rush in November.
Every time he won the race, El Dorado would then just be put through his next races as prep runs towards his title defence – bar 2010 when he skipped the race through a chip operation. In between his two back-to-back triumphs in 2008 and 2009, he even raced nine times without winning before he found the line when it mattered.
All in all, El Dorado has recorded nine wins and nine placings from 48 starts for prizemoney in excess of $2.8 million for his proud owners, the Otanis of Big Valley Stable.
Otani still cannot believe the “best horse” he has owned in his seven years at Kranji, is gone from racing, but chokes with pride and emotion when he looks back at the amazing ride.
“I’m disappointed he will not race anymore, but at the same time relieved his fracture is not that serious,” said the oil trader. “He’s by far the best horse I’ve had.
“We didn’t quite appreciate his first win as we were not really aware of the rich history of the Gold Cup then, but his second win was absolutely amazing. To make it three and equal the record the next year was even more memorable.”
El Dorado still has one more “race” to fight for, though – to be put out to pasture in his country of birth, Japan.
“Horses can be brought from Japan to Singapore, but there is no protocol for the other way round,” said Otani.
“I am currently discussing with the authorities and I’m confident we can sort this out and bring him to my Hokkaido farm once he is back to good health.
“El Dorado has done so much for my wife Yuki and myself. He deserves a nice retirement back where he came from.”