By Michael Lee – Singapore Turf Club
Rising star Top Knight overcame a muddling-run race to poke his head in front where it mattered in the $400,000 Group 2 Singapore Three-Year-Old Classic (1400m) on Friday night.
The son of Zoustar incidentally handed trainer Michael Clements back-to-back wins in the second Leg of the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge, following his first hurrah with Countofmontecristo last year.
Sent off as the $11 favourite, a tag largely fuelled by his eye-catching second to Bold Thruster in the first Leg, the Group 3 JBBA Singapore Three-Year-Old Sprint (1200m) on April 5, Top Knight dropped out to the tail of the field as is his customary racing pattern while Makkem Lad (Wong Chin Chuen) dictated terms at a dawdling pace.
The field packed up noticeably on the swing, but Top Knight looked like he still had all to do when Makkem Lad kicked into another gear hard up against the rails, sending a rather unexpected ‘catch-me-if-you-can’ message to the chasing pack.
Among the first to give pursuit were the well-fancied Lim’s Lightning (Troy See) and Pennywise (Callan Murray), who had coursed out three wide for most of the trip, but it soon became clear there was nothing left in the locker for both challengers.
Makkem Lad, who weakened to 10th in the Sprint, was at that point giving a great sight, and on the brink of causing an upset.
But the fat lady had not sung yet. Though more tradesmanlike than spectacular, Top Knight was steadily whittling down the margin on the outside while Elite Incredible (Michael Rodd) was slicing through the middle with a bold run as well.
It was one of those stirring finishes which could go either way, but the greater momentum on the outside eventually swung it for Top Knight as he lunged late for a heart-stopping head-win from the brave but unlucky Donna Logan-trained Makkem Lad, a winner everywhere except at the winning post.
On his sterling third place another short head away, Elite Incredible, who was at only his second Kranji start, will certainly figure highly among the blackbookers for the grand final, the Group 1 Singapore Guineas (1600m) on May 25.
Siam Blue Vanda (Ben Thompson), who kept company with stablemate Top Knight at the rear, can be credited with a decent performance after he ran on late for fourth place another 1 ¼ lengths away. The winning time was 1min 22.71secs for the 1400m on the Long Course.
If there was to be a bittersweet taste for Clements, it came from his third runner Siam Vipasiri (Glen Boss). A fast-finishing third in the Sprint, the Bernardini filly didn’t put in a blow this time, finishing a tepid eighth.
But the Zimbabwean-born handler, who was bringing up his 24th win for the season to cement his second place behind Mark Walker (on 28 winners), was not going to be too hard to please.
“Top Knight has done it the hard way, but luckily, his class saw him through at the business end,” said Clements.
“I think over this trip, he’s the best among my other three-year-olds, and he will be even better over the mile.
“It’ll be interesting to see who wins the next Leg.”
Like Clements, Duric, who was returning to the saddle after being sidelined for three weeks for a groin operation, was not at his first Singapore Three-Year-Old Classic silverware. The two-time Singapore champion jockey won his first back in 2011 on the Bruce Marsh-trained Gingerbread Man, even going on to make a clean sweep of the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge with the now Perth-based stallion.
Whether Top Knight can at least achieve two thirds of what Gingerbread Man did remains to be seen, but Duric would certainly not put the feat beyond the Thai-owned gelding.
“I had a lot of trust in my horse coming into the race,” said the Australian hoop who was at the double after taking out the opener, the $30,000 Mister Yeoh 2018 Stakes, a Class 5 Division 1 race over 1400m with the Walker-trained Clarton Palace.
“I don’t want to go ‘he’s this and that’, but anyway, I think he has an edge over more ground.
“I just wanted to keep him out of trouble, and that’s why I was happy with his barrier (10), I just wanted to stay at the back and help him get into his own rhythm.
“He really had to stretch to beat the Elite horse tonight, but it probably was because it was a muddling sort of tempo.
“I think the mile will be more advantageous to him. It depends on what he draws as he’s also got a soft mouth and you can’t overdo things with him, he likes to be balanced up.”
With that fifth win from eight starts, Top Knight has now seen his stakes earnings double to around the $400,000 mark for the Falcon Racing No 7 Stable.