Mandrake first of Argentina plane drama to score

Trainer James Peters was a happy man on at Kranji Saturday after Mandrake emerged as the first winner from a pioneer group of Argentinian-breds raced by a new syndication group.

The Englishman was not so thrilled 10 months ago when the shipment was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The plane they had boarded was grounded in Buenos Aires after it was searched and a stash of 80kg of cocaine was seized.

Unfortunately, the drug bust made headlines around the world, with Peters’ five horses the unwitting fellow passengers to the unsavoury cargo.

That unfortunate and rather bizarre episode is now done and dusted, especially after the five stranded horses finally landed one month later than scheduled.

With four of them unraced youngsters, Mandrake, a five-year-old by Not For Sale, was by all accounts the one who would be the most likely to give the new group headed by South African racing manager Justin Vermaak a first toast to forget the Buenos Aires debacle.

After knocking on the door at his first three runs, including a closing third place to Heartening Flyer in a seven-furlong race at his last start, Mandrake got right on target this time in the $50,000 Class 4 race over 1600m.

Scraping paint worse than midfield, Mandrake looked to have the task ahead when he came off the fence for his challenge at the top of the straight with race-leader Ironchamp (Simon Kok Wei Hoong) showing no signs of letting up, but under French jockey Marc Lerner’s strong urgings, Peters’ ward ground his way past Steven Burridge’s last-start winner for a gutsy neck win.

Centenary Diamond (Ruan Maia) must have had his supporters cheering when he zoomed up on the outside, but he could not quite match Mandrake’s superior turn of foot, having to settle for third place another 1 ¼ lengths away. The winning time was 1min 34.56secs for the mile on the Short Course.

“I’m very happy for the group, especially for Justin Vermaak and all of the boys who’ve got shares in this new syndication,” said Peters.

“This horse has improved since he’s landed here. He was a bit nervous, quite keen.

“The boys at the stable have done a great job to switch him off. He’s learned to be more relaxed.

“From the barrier, we thought we might go forward, but he was a bit slow at the gates, and Marc gave him a 10-out-of-10 ride.

“When he came off the fence, I really liked the way he did his best work inside the last 100m. He will get over more ground, 1600m to 1800m, and even further in time.”

Now that Mandrake has opened the account, Kranji is waiting with great anticipation for the remaining four to show what they can do.

Tesoro Pirata is the only one to have made his Singapore debut when he beat one home in a Restricted Maiden race over 1200m on October 3, but Peters half-expected that, confident their ability will eventually come through, just like for Pini Pons, Under Oath and Whiz Fizz.

“They are coming along nicely. Obviously, they have taken a bit of time,” said Peters.

“It’s only their first prep. In New Zealand and Australia, they are trialled and then put in a paddock, but they don’t do that in Argentina.

“Some had to be gelded, a few small things like that happened, others got shinsore, but they are nice types and have reached a nice level of fitness.”