By Michael Lee – Singapore Turf Club
He was a bit like the forgotten horse in Sunday’s $175,000 Group 3 Moonbeam Vase (1600m), but Elite Excalibur sent a stark reminder he was still a major force to be reckoned with in the way he despatched his rivals at that Kranji Mile prelude.
The Fastnet Rock six-year-old had not won a race since the Group 3 Committee’s Prize (1600m) in March 2018. In six ensuing starts, Elite Excalibur had gone off the boil, including an unplaced run in the inaugural Group 1 Kranji Mile (1600m) won by Hong Kong’s Southern Legend in May.
At his comeback prep (his last start was his unplaced run to Elite Invincible in the Group 1 Dester Singapore Gold Cup over 2000m on November 11), his barrier trials had slipped a little under the radar, but in the Cliff Brown camp, even if confidence might not have been sky-high, the knowledge of his solid first-up record did give room for some hope.
In fact, all his prior three wins before Sunday’s were recorded after a long break, and to the delight of the Elite Performance Stable’s horde of fans clad in their “Victorious With Horsey” polo tees, that trend was continued in devastating style in the Moonbeam Vase.
Brown had long targetted the Moonbeam Vase (which he was adding to his long list of silverware for the first time) as his comeback race and the ideal stepping stone to another tilt at the Kranji Mile on May 25. He figures with Singapore champion galloper Debt Collector and Dicton among a trio entered by Brown for the Invitational feature race.
On Sunday’s sterling effort, Elite Excalibur would be odds-on to have earned his ticket for the glamour race.
Unsighted for most of the way, the former Coolmore-owned and Gai Waterhouse-trained three-time Sydney winner (when known as River Wild) enjoyed a trouble-free run in midfield as Eye Guy (Amirul Ismadi) scorched up the turf in front.
Among the top picks, Mikki Joy (John Powell) was further back than expected after a sluggish start while his stablemate Preditor (Barend Vorster) who was punted down to late $20 favouritism, was also in a rearward spot. Breaking from a wide alley, King Louis (Glen Boss) was ridden for luck when he was snagged back to last before improving on the rails to settle among the backmarkers.
With the main chances looking in trouble as the 14-horse field swung for the judge, Eye Guy kicked clear and suddenly, an upset was in the air.
Preditor was closing in as he does, but had too much ground to make up, while the much-hyped Mikki Joy, who has won all his three races when ridden forward, could not quicken from off the pace.
Unlikely challengers to come testing Eye Guy were Black Jade (A’Isisuhairi Kasim) and Japanese mare Makanani (Joseph See) who momentarily loomed as a big threat when she ducked for a saloon passage on the fence.
King Louis still looked half a chance as he tried to squeeze his way through a gap – reminiscent of his slaloming at his last win in a Class 2 race over 1800m in October – between the rails and Forever Young (Simon Kok Wei Hoong) at the 400m, but ran out of room, compounded further by a slipped saddle that put Boss in an awkward posture.
On the other hand, there was no such scrimmage for Elite Excalibur, the fresh legs on the scene. Pinning his ears back, he found acres of land as he settled for a good go with Eye Guy inside the last 100m, before getting the upperhand and the chocolates by half-a-length.
Blizzard (Daniel Moor) ran on for third place another length away, a super run from a Kranji Mile perspective, given the tough time he went through punching the breeze three wide for most of the journey. First-up from a five-week break, Black Jade who was making a huge leap in class, did well to complete the quartet another nose away.
Preditor found his rhythm when it was all over, storming home for fifth another half-a-length away, delivering a much more significant warm-up run for the Kranji Mile than his stablemate Mikki Joy, who ran ninth, albeit only just under 3 ½ lengths off the winner.
The winning time was 1min 33.62secs, only 0.34 second outside the course record established by Magneto in 2014.
“It was a great effort from Elite Excalibur. He had a few little issues, but he’s over them now,” said Brown.
“It was a wonderful ride from Benny as well. A big thank you to the boys, Chris Bock and Tim Fitzsimmons, who is a dad now.”
For good measure, Elite Excalibur’s win also happened to hand the Australian trainer his 500th winner since moving from Victoria to Kranji in 2008.
“It’s great to have reached that milestone. We’ve been around the mark for a while, we found a few better in the 3YO race (Elite Incredible beaten in third by Top Knight) and the Sprint (Mister Yeoh and Zac Kasa beaten in third and fourth respectively by Bold Thruster),” said Brown.
“But we’ve finally made it. This is a team effort, it’s not just me. We also have all the staff working together, Tim, Chris, Sabri, Shafiq, who are amazing track riders – thank you to all of them.”
Meanwhile, Thompson was recording his second win in a ‘black type’ race in Singapore, having memorably sealed his first at a maiden pitstop visit in November when he won the Group 2 EW Barker Trophy (1400m) on Mister Yeoh, also trained by Brown.
The young Australian jockey, who often travels back home for Saturday Group rides – he just returned from one on Saturday when unplaced aboard his only mission, the ride aboard I’ll Have A Bit for trainer John McArdle in the Group 1 Robert Sangster Stakes (1200m) at Morphettville – was just as rapt with Elite Excalibur’s win, especially as his parents were in town to witness the feat.
“I’m just the lucky jockey to be getting on top of good horses,” he said modestly.
“A big thank you to Cliff Brown as it’s my second feature win for him. He was first-up over the mile at his third prep and he’s done that in style.
“My parents are here and it’s great to ride a winner in front of them.”
With that fourth win, Elite Excalibur has now amassed in excess of $780,000 in stakes earnings for the Elite Performance Stable.