Nunes’ tactical nous on Ghalib pays off

Small fields often beget a race of tactics and five-time Singapore champion jockey Manoel Nunes showed a masterful ride on Ghalib to lead from start to finish in the $100,000 Kranji Stakes A race (1400m) on Sunday.

After Senor Don and Ejaz were scratched earlier, only four runners headed to the start with Golden Monkey sent out as the favourite at $7 while the Steven Burridge-trained Ghalib kept him honest in the early markets before jumping at $13.

More support came in for So Hi Class close to the jump, but it did seem a two-horse race with tactics, including early race sectionals, likely to play a big part in the finish.

Ghalib (Manoel Nunes) makes all in Race 5, picture Singapore Turf Club

Given Golden Monkey (Ryan Curatolo) is usually ridden quiet in the races, it was no surprise Nunes elected to not only lead on Ghalib, but he also dropped the anchor on the four-year-old son of I Am Invincible early.

So, an overracing Ghalib led a slow procession in the backstraight with So Hi Class (Koh Teck Huat) on his flank, General Command (Daniel Moor) was one-back on the rails and Golden Monkey was snagged back at the rear of the small field.

Nothing much changed in the order until Nunes went for home on Ghalib at the 300m before putting three lengths on So Hi Class and at least four lengths on Golden Monkey.

That looked to be the winning move given the slow early sectionals. While Golden Monkey showed his usual turn of foot when Curatolo got busy at the 250m, Nunes had pinched a big-enough break to make it almost impossible for the 2023 Group 1 Singapore Derby (1800m) winner to make up ground late.

Tried as he might, Golden Monkey could only get to within one-and-a-half-lengths of Ghalib on the line, with a gamed So Hi Class another half-a-length back in third. The winning time was 1 min 25.12secs for the 1400m on the Short Course.

Nunes was delighted with Ghalib’s win, especially against quality opposition over seven furlongs.

“There was a question mark if Ghalib could win today as I read that Golden Monkey was the second-best horse in Singapore. So, all the more I have to try and beat him right?” quipped Nunes.

“He’s (Ghalib) in great form. It was a small field and nobody went in front, so we took the lead and I could dictate the pace.

“When I asked for him at the top of the straight, I still had plenty underneath. He accelerated very quickly from there and put maybe one or two lengths on the field.

“I was worried about the 1400m, but the small field helped him. But going forward, I think 1200m is definitely better for him.”

The Brazilian hoop also won on Flying Fighter ($16) for Burridge in the $20,000 Open Maiden race (1600m) three races earlier, taking back the lead on the 2024 jockeys’ log on 38 wins, one more than closest rival Bruno Queiroz who went home empty-handed on Sunday.

Burridge agreed with Nunes, but with a caveat.

“We knew he (Ghalib) can sprint,” said the Australian conditioner.

“So the (Group 1) Lion City Cup (over 1200m on 28 July) is definitely an option. We could freshen him up for a crack at that race.

“But he is a four-year-old and might get the mile, so the (Group 2) Stewards’ Cup (1600m) in two weeks’ time (on 30 June) is on the table too.

“It’s a good dilemma to have but I’ll see how he pulls up after today and discuss with (owner) Mansoor (Gandhi) and Manoel.”

Burridge also praised Nunes, who had a decision to make upon jumping.

“To be honest, we thought General Command would lead,” he said.

“But we thought if he (General Command) doesn’t try and lead, we would. And I left it to Manoel.

“When they were running so slow, I knew it would be very tough for (trainer) Tim’s (Fitzsimmons) horse (Golden Monkey). He would have to be special as he carried three more kilos (59.5kgs) than us.

“I think that’s his (Ghalib) fifth win for me and seventh overall. He’s done a great job and more importantly, he’s happy and going really well.”

Ghalib’s seventh win and two placings from 12 starts in Singapore took his earnings to over $310,000 for the Al-Arabiya Stable.