Leading Kranji trainer Michael Clements views Saturday’s $100,000 Class 1 race over 1200m on Polytrack as a nice kickoff point for Countofmontecristo towards the Kranji Mile.
The glamour mile race had always been the Echoes Of Heaven six-year-old’s target this campaign, be it pre or post Circuit Breaker.
With the shutdown, all racing participants had stayed on the sidelines for three months. Racing at Kranji was halted on April 7 due to COVID-19 pandemic measures.
Louis-Philippe Beuzelin steers Countofmontecristo to a resounding win in the Chairman's Trophy, picture Singapore Turf Club
As they re-emerge from the enforced hibernation, some feature races have been rescheduled, others cancelled, but the Kranji Mile is still around except that it has been moved from May 23 to August 16.
It’s not the best prep Clements had envisaged for Joe Singh’s consistent galloper, but everybody is in the same boat.
For a start, it is unlikely the five-time Group winner would have been charted on a sprint path two runs prior to the race, but Clements sees no reason why he would be out of his depth even if he doesn’t muster the same gate speed of his early racing days.
“The trip is a touch on the short side for him these days as he is getting old now,” said the Zimbabwean-born handler.
“But he did well on the track and distance previously. He should be okay.
“Besides, he’s shown at his recent races he’s better off ridden off the pace. Even when he is outpaced, it’s okay, he proved he had a good style of racing from quite a way back.
“As he’s running in the same sort of class, I expect a similar run this Saturday. If there is blistering speed upfront, he should be sharp and fresh enough to sit just behind the leaders.”
Not one to have had a regular partner – 17 riders in 29 starts – especially after his 3YO campaign, Countofmontecristo will this Saturday be reunited with Louis-Philippe Beuzelin, his last winning partner (and only time he was on board) two starts back in the Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy (1600m) in February.
At his last run in a Kranji Stakes A race over 1800m, Clements used the three-kilo claim of apprentice jockey Mohammad Nizar to shave off some weight off his top impost of 59.5kgs, but caught three deep throughout, he fizzled out in the home straight, finishing just outside the placings to Yulong Edition.
“Louis won on him in the Group 2 race, Joe is happy to have him back on,” said Clements.
“Louis trialled him last week (July 1) and I was really pleased with the run. The horse did it all in good time.
“He has come through it very well and has maintained good form. I would say the long break hasn’t done him any harm as we have kept him ticking over.
“He’s bright and happy, fit and well. I’m really happy with his condition going into Saturday’s race.
“The Kranji Mile is still his main target. He will run in a Class 1 race over 1400m in three weeks’ time (August 2), two weeks before the Kranji Mile.”
While Countofmontecristo represents the old guard among that first post-COVID-19 meeting team to help reboot Clements’ bid for a first title – currently one win clear on reigning champion trainer Mark Walker (22 vs 21 wins) – he also has a bevy of unraced youngsters doing their bit.
Four of them make their racing debuts in the two Restricted Maiden races over 1100m, with three of them raced by Kuwaiti businessman Fahad Ibrahim Khalid Al-Rashid, whose main base is in Kuala Lumpur, and began racing at Kranji last year.
“The owner’s first winner with us was So Hi Class – and it was also his first winner here - and these are all three-year-old colts from UK and USA. They are all six months behind,” said Clements.
“All three need a bit more ground, but we had to get them to the races and get that one run under the belt.
“Mardoona (won all his three barrier trials) seems to be the most forward, but I expect all of them to run fair races.”
Clements has booked Beuzelin on Jacksa, a son of 1999 Belmont Stakes (2400m) winner Lemon Drop Kid, South African jockey Ryan Munger on Almugir, a son of Union Rags, also a Belmont Stakes winner, but in 2012, and his apprentice jockey Shafrizal Saleh on Mardoona, an English-bred by Darbisim who was more of a sprinter.
The fourth newcomer is Ablest Ascend who will run with Jacksa while Mardoona and Almugir are in the second RM race. Being two, Ablest Ascend, a colt by Charm Spirit belonging to Tivic Stable, will have no weight on his back with only 50kgs while the Fahad trio carry 54.5kg each.