When trainer Lee Freedman broke the news last December he was returning to Australia from Kranji, it wasn’t long before enquiries were made about his horses’ takeover, with Mr Malek probably the one getting the longest queue in front of his box gate.
As it turned out, the smart four-year-old sprinter-miler was among those that were not for sale.
Former Singapore champion owner Phua Chian Kin (CK) of Oscar Racing Stable would still retain all the shares of the Swiss Ace six-time winner (1200m to 1600m), but had to choose a new trainer.
Mr Malek (Simon Kok Wei Hoong) seen here heading out to the trials on Thursday morning, picture Singapore Turf Club
Many thought the likes of Cliff Brown (before he ruled himself out after he also quit Kranji) and James Peters were the hot favourites given their association with the famous yellow and blue spots colours, but Phua surprised a few by opting for a trainer he had never worked with before, Steven Burridge.
The Australian, who endured a long run of outs before Split Second snapped it last Saturday, was pleased to be the chosen one. Though none of his six wins came at Group level, Mr Malek was second best to the untouchable Inferno in last year’s Group 1 Lion City Cup (1200m), but the high-profile transfer was a responsibility that also came with a big challenge.
“He was lame when I got him, I didn’t know if he’d come back, to be honest,” said Burridge.
“It was a nail that went in. When we pulled the nail, we didn’t know where it went.
“He had six weeks off and, luckily, he has come back right.”
Mr Malek showed up for his first barrier trial under the Burridge banner on Thursday. Ridden by Burridge’s apprentice jockey Simon Kok Wei Hoong, he jumped smartly before easing into the slipstream of the leading bunch, throughout showing no intention of putting an indent into the margin to eventually run fifth, around four lengths off the winner Ocean Crossing (Vlad Duric).
“It was his first trial back. We gave him an easy trial, it was more like an exercise as he hasn’t raced for some time,” said Burridge.
Kok reported a bit of edginess before he was sent on his way, but the balance of that first barrier trial went without a hitch, albeit not without some steering intervention to keep his eagerness in check.
“He was a bit nervous in the barriers, he put his head down a couple of times, but he jumped quick,” said the two-time Singapore champion apprentice jockey who had not race-ridden Mr Malek at his 10 starts.
“He travelled well. You can tell he’s very smart; at the 600m, he wanted to come out, but I preferred to let him come out gradually and after that, he galloped to the finishing line very well.
“He didn’t blow hard. He could have done more but I was happy to just let him do enough today.”
While the Kranji Mile on May 22 was a race that was within his compass, Burridge has decided to sidestep the $1 million Group 1 race in favour of a shorter contest on the same day.
“We entered him in the Kranji Mile, but we ran out of time for that race. We went for a Class 1 race over 1200m on grass on the same day as the Kranji Mile instead,” he said.
“We’ll see how he goes in that race, and we go from there.
“I’ve never trained for CK before, and I thank him for sending me Mr Malek, who, I believe, is the only one he’s got left. So, let’s hope he comes back to his best.”