It’s Vlad Duric who has finally been chosen to ride Lim’s Cruiser in England.
After weighing up their options in the last couple of days since they elected to press on towards Royal Ascot despite the Singapore champion sprinter’s narrow defeat in the Group 1 Lion City Cup (1200m) on Saturday, trainer Stephen Gray and the Lim’s Stable have given the Australian two-time Singapore champion jockey the nod for the overseas assignment.
Gray, Mr Lim Siah Mong and racing manager Mick Dittman even considered hiring an English jockey who knows the UK racecourses better, but eventually went with a jockey who knows the horse better instead.
Even if Duric has not ridden the Casino Prince six-year-old since October 2017, he did steer him to the first three of his eight wins early doors in 2016.
Gray has accepted the invitation to run Lim’s Cruiser in the £600,000 (S$1 million) Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (1200m) on the Ascot straight on June 22.
Other options like the Group 1 Darley July (1200m) on July 13 and a Group 2 race over 1400m at Goodwood on July 30 are also in the mix, but nothing has been cast in stone yet.
Duric, who has never ridden in England, let alone Europe, was obviously looking forward to his baptism of fire in the Old Dart, more so when it’ll be at one of its most prestigious meetings, but was above all proud to represent Singapore on a horse and for people he knows very well.
“Royal Ascot is such a prestigious event and it’s wonderful to go there with a really good horse,” said Duric.
“I’m glad I’m trusted by the owner Mr Lim and Mick Dittman and I’ve also known Steve for so many years and I know his training style.
“I’m really keen for the opportunity and I believe the horse has a great chance. I know the horse well and when I heard he was going to England, I put my hand up.
“I’ve never ridden in England or Europe; for some reason, it’s never been on the cards, but I’m travelled a lot to different tracks around the world. I’m an experienced jockey who can adapt to any track.
“I’ve ridden plenty of winners over the straight in Flemington back home, even if Ascot goes uphill and is more undulating.
“I actually like the fact Lim’s Cruiser is more of a 1400m-1600m horse now, not just a sprinter as the Ascot straight is a testing 1200m. It will suit him better.
“But above all, I know the horse, I know the way Steve trains. I think that held a lot of weight in my selection and I’m really thankful for the opportunity.”
Gray admitted the team was at one stage leaning towards a jockey who knows the lie of the land, but when Duric came knocking on the door, the leading jockey’s eagerness to join the party was the clincher.
“Surprisingly, no-one rang up for the ride – except for Vlad,” said the Kiwi handler.
“He approached me yesterday. I told him we were maybe looking at someone up there, but asked him to speak to Mr Lim and Mick, which he did.
“I told Mick I thought it was a good idea as he knows the horse and he showed he really wanted to go. He even offered to come out early to ride Cruiser in trackwork there.
“It’s a dream come true for Vlad to ride at Ascot. It’s all positive vibes, he’s a personal friend, he’s a good bloke and we’re bringing a local jockey for an all-Singaporean affair.
“I’m rapt to put him on, and after he saw Mick and Mr Lim today, they were more than happy to have him on as well.”
Gray said the conundrum of local rider who knows the track but not the horse versus a Singapore jockey who knows the horse but not the track became a no-brainer once Kranji’s best threw his hat in the ring.
The last time Gray went to England with Emperor Max (seventh) in the 2015 QIPCO British Champions Sprint Stakes over 1200m, he gave Kranji jockey Corey Brown the gig.
“Last time, I took Corey Brown to England and he rode Max brilliantly,” Gray explained.
“Similarly, Vlad knows Cruiser inside out. I’m not at all worried he doesn’t know the track, because he’s got to ride the horse in such a way the track will suit the horse.
“It’s not an easy race to win, but Vlad will need to work it out. He’s got to trust the horse.
“Cruiser’s a horse who is a lot better when ridden quiet. He gets beaten when he’s not ridden the way he should be ridden – for some reason, some can’t get a grip of that.
“Vlad, Danny Beasley, Glen Boss, Karis Teetan, Amirul Ismadi all rode him patiently and they all won.
“So, I’d rather take a jockey who knows him because if he gets beat, then it’s fair and square.
“And why not take Singapore’s leading rider. Like I said, it’s fantastic to bring our own local rider on a local horse there.”
In accepting the ride, Duric, who is a clear leader on this year’s premiership (39 winners against Michael Rodd’s 26) will miss one Singapore meeting, the standalone Friday meeting on June 21.