Tough sprinter Mr Big again showcased his fighting qualities with a brilliant win in the Group 3 Woodlands Handicap (1200m) on Sunday.
The Polytrack feature brought up the Elusive Quality four-year-old’s Group haul to four after having already secured the Group 2 Aushorse Golden Horseshoe and the Group 3 Juvenile Championship as a two-year-old and the Group 3 Kranji Sprint last April.
The then seven-time winner nearly shone at the highest level in the International Group 1 KrisFlyer International Sprint (1200m) last May but found one better in Patrick Shaw’s Ato. Resuming in an 1100m Polyrtrack race two weeks ago, Mr Big was again denied victory, this time by a much-fitter rival in Yin Xin, to bring up his fifth second and maintain his proud record of never having finished out of the top three in 15 starts.
Stephen Baster guides Mr Big to an all-the-way win in the Group 3 Woodlands Handicap, picture SingaporeTurf Club
Ridden again by jockey Stephen Baster, who has been his regular partner since the Kranji Sprint triumph, Mr Big ($12) jumped smartly to poke his head in front early, but on his inside, joint $12 favourite Yin Xin (Joao Moreira) would not let him cross as he railed through to hold his position.
To apply even more pressure on Mr Big, outsider Won’t Stop (Koh Teck Huat) sped up on his outside to make a line of three while the other fancy Speedy Cat (Ivaldo Santana) had dropped back in a rearward position despite breaking from the inside alley.
The order changed little until the 500m when Yin Xin was given more rein by Moreira in an obvious bid to reclaim the advantage on the inside. As the field fanned out across the track, it did look like Theo Kieser’s game sprinter was right back on the ascendancy as he elected for the shortest route home, but Mr Big had not been fully tested by Baster yet.
The moment the Australian jockey pulled the whip, Mr Big dug into his reserve to gather in Yin Xin and pinch a 1 ½ length lead that looked decisive at the 100m. Speedy Cat was at that moment coming home with a smashing run on the outside and momentarily looked like he could spring a last-gasp surprise, but only if he had 50m more to run as Mr Big fell in quite comfortably by 1 ¼ lengths to record the smart time of 1min 10.64secs. Yin Xin plugged on well for third another head away.
That major success has now brought Mr Big’s earnings past the $1 million mark for the O&T Stable, and Freedman his eighth Group win from the possible 22 which have already been run at Kranji, cementing his reputation as this year’s Singapore’s big-race trainer even further.
At the winner’s circle, the Australian handler did rank Mr Big up there with the best he has trained in his five years in Singapore.
“He’s just a marvel. He’s never finished outside the top three in 16 starts, which is an outstanding achievement,” he said.
“Unlike what his name suggests, he’s not exactly big, but he’s such a genuine horse and always gives his 110% every time he runs.
“Hopefully he keeps going at that rate a little longer. He didn’t have an easy trip today, especially when the third horse came on his outside, but he’s such a bulldog and I always knew he would tough it out.
“I will give him another couple of starts here and with a bit of luck, the long-term plan could be the Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) in December.
“Yes, I also have Super Easy in mind for Hong Kong. It sure would be nice to have two horses going up there.”
Baster, who has now registered his two Singapore Group successes with the same horse (he was also Mr Big’s pilot in the Kranji Sprint), branded Mr Big as the “best horse” he has ridden in his eight months in Singapore.
“He had a pretty nice run throughout, but they did make him work a bit this time,” said the Australian hoop. “But he’s such a fighter and he never gives up.
“I could see Joao pushing to get his horse (Yin Xin) to hold his spot on the fence. It was a little bit the other way round this time as I was on the fence the last time (we met).
“But he just kept trying his heart out in the straight. He’s by far the best horse that I’ve ridden here.”