When trainer Alwin Tan brought up his 498th career winner with Helushka on February 28 last year, most thought picking up another couple of winners to hit that all-important half-tonne milestone wouldn’t take too long.
Nobody could have guessed, not even the Singaporean handler it actually would actually take a little under one year!
True, the COVID-19 pandemic that plagued the world and the local racing industry was an unbelievable catastrophe in itself, but with racing going back to business on July 11 following the three-month lockdown, Tan could still conceivably have put that 500-figure astern by 2020.
He had to, however, endure a long drought until the aptly-named Victory Joy saluted on September 12 at long odds, but sitting just the one winner shy of the landmark has turned out to be an even more agonisingly long wait.
The 2016 Singapore champion trainer eventually ended last season on his knees with a paltry haul of only five winners, ahead of only Tim Fitzsimmons, who was at his first full season.
Still, credit to Tan who got the new 2021 campaign underway with a positive mindset, convinced a brand new chapter can only bring better fortunes, and sure enough, The Archer finally brought that much-needed fillip in Saturday’s $20,000 Open Maiden race over 1200m on Polytrack at only the third meeting of the new season.
Ridden by Wong Chin Chuen, the $42 shot came with a barnstorming finish on the grandstand side to finish locked together with debutant and favourite Malibu Beach (John Powell).
The recourse to the photo finish stretched Tan’s endless wait by another few minutes that must have felt like hours to the poor trainer before the judge finally let him off that unbearable suspense when The Archer’s No 12 was semaphored.
“We’ve waited many months for that winner. The long wait was mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Tan.
“Horses were coming in and out of the stables with so many transfers. We were already going through hard times but the pandemic made it even harder for us.
“By October, I was feeling very lost as we still had no winners after Victory Joy won back in September. But thanks to the owners who have never stopped supporting me, I kept believing in myself and my staff.
“To get the winner today is a big relief and a big motivation for myself and my staff, who have worked so hard. Hopefully, we can look forward to more winners from now on, and more support.
“I have 22 horses now. I had new Hong Kong owners lined up, but the pandemic has put that on hold, but I’m still working on getting new owners on board.
“I have to thank my loyal owners for having stayed with me through these hard times, and hopefully, we will have a better season this year.
“I believe the worst is behind us. Even when I was going through my darkest period, I never thought of giving up, as I’ve always believed with hard work, we can turn things around.”
Tan saddled only three runners (other two are the unplaced City Knight in the first race and the yet-to-run Super Power in the last race) on Saturday, with The Archer, a Wandjina three-year-old who ran second on debut and was a closing seventh second-up, clearly his best chance.
“I didn’t have a lot of confidence today except for The Archer. He ran well on debut and last start, he was checked,” said Tan.
“It’s also great it’s the Falcon Racing Stable who has given me that 500th winner, as they have been a big supporter of mine for a while now.”
Proud he had a part to play in Tan’s thirst-quencher slash milestone, Wong could not resist a little fist-bump with the handler on weighing back in.
“Well done to Alwin. He’s waited for that 500th win for so long,” said the former two-time Singapore champion apprentice jockey.
“This horse is still a baby, he still doesn’t have a racing mind yet. He wasn’t 100% focused for most of the race, but he has some ability.
“I think he’ll get better as he becomes more mature.”
The Archer defeated Malibu Beach by a short head with Happy Friday (Benny Woodworth) third another half-length away. The winning time was 1min 12.03secs for the 1200m on the Polytrack.
While The Archer made $14,343 from his second place in a Restricted Maiden race, that first win ironically earned him less (around $11,000) given it was only an Open Maiden race, with his total prizemoney now showing in excess of $25,000 to the Falcon Racing Stable, who just won back-to-back Singapore champion owner title.