By Michael Lee – Singapore Turf Club
Kranji superstar Debt Collector did not win his Thursday barrier trial like he exceptionally did at the last pre-race dress rehearsal before his breathtaking first-up win, but the camp was still in buoyant mood.
As fans would recall, the Thorn Park six-year-old stormed home to win his barrier trial, 10 days before his comeback race first-up from his Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (1800m) win in October.
It was the first time the 2016 Singapore Horse of the Year had ever won a barrier trial in his feted racing career, and he duly went on to repeat the feat in the one that mattered, a Class 1 race over 1400m on March 10, to make it win No 11.
Trainer Cliff Brown has followed the same barrier trial blueprint ahead of his next outing, his first 2019 feature race assignment, the Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy (1600m) on April 7, but this time around, Debt Collector finished back in the field.
At some stage, he was dead last and totally detached from the bunched-up seven other horses going helter-skelter eight lengths ahead. He did make ground late to finish sixth, 4 ½ lengths off the winner Super Winner (Glen Boss).
It was nothing too spectacular, but nothing too unfamiliar either. With the exception of that one win, Debt Collector usually finishes off his trials at the rear, or just behind the placegetters at best.
Brown and Debt Collector’s jockey Michael Rodd were for one happy with Thursday’s workout, but as usual, mindful there can always be a chink in the armour come raceday.
“All is fine with him, but nothing is guaranteed in racing as we’ve learned over the years,” said Brown.
“He’s very well and that was a nice trial for him. He will as usual get back and finish off.
“Everything’s gone to plan, but it doesn’t stop us from worrying.”
Such is the nature of the beast when one trains the top dog in any sport, especially as in Debt Collector’s case, statistically, he tasted defeat at every other start (11 wins in 22 starts).
Rodd has seen new traits surface in the Barree Stable-owned gelding, but that dynamic motor under the bonnet is the one constant he has mastered down pat over the years.
“He’s been flying out the gates lately. Like in this morning’s trial,” said the Australian jockey.
“I just let him come back by himself, though. I don’t touch him, you can’t break his stride.
“The thing about him is you can’t go too early with him either, as he accelerates so hard. You’ve got to let him be comfortable and let him change his legs in the straight first.
“In his races, you will see me getting on my bike at the 600m. Actually, I’m just letting him cruise up.
“You can use the analogy of an electric car. He will go through his gears within himself and then you turn on the engine.
“When he is running against good horses like Countofmontecristo, that’s when you have to stretch him a bit more, though. Horses have the same legs, don’t they, but the better ones have bigger engines.”