By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
Lim’s Cruiser may be quoted at 33-1 with the British bookies, but trainer Stephen Gray is still exuding a mixture of quiet confidence and exaltation one day before he rewrites history for Singapore racing.
The two-time local champion sprinter is the first Singapore-based horse to run at the world-famous Royal Ascot meeting in England as he faces the starter with 17 other topline sprinters, mostly from UK, in the £600,000 ($1 million) Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (1200m) tomorrow.
? "We're excited to bring the first horse from Singapore, trained in Singapore and owned in Singapore to Royal Ascot. If dreams come true… well, you never know do you."
— Ascot Racecourse (@Ascot) June 17, 2019
On paper, he faces a mammoth task against the likes of Blue Point, City Light, Invincible Army and The Tin Man, but his go-getting trainer is not in England to just put an elongated headgear on – and a tick on his bucket list.
To him, Lim’s Cruiser is in career-best form – far better than his last two runs back home when he found one better in two Group events over 1200m – the Group 3 Rocket Man Sprint (won by Bold Thruster) and the race he was bidding for a hat-trick in, the Group 1 Lion City Cup (won by Aramco).
In other words, a giant-killing act would not be completely unfathomable from the eight-time winner, but Gray would still be happy with a top-four finish.
Lim’s Cruiser enjoying #newmarket morning sun ☀️ ? ?2 more sleeps until #Ascot2019 Diamond Jubilee Stakes @KranjiBroadcast @SGTurfClub @anz_news @mmsnippets @VDuric77 @TDNAusNZ @AdrianBeaumont @LoveRacingNZ pic.twitter.com/GsFlRlAN8I
— Copper Belt Racing (@copperbelt_stc) June 20, 2019
“Cruiser is in the best form he has even been. He is bucking his brands off and his ‘naughty side’ has come out again,” said Gray who will be at his second English raid after finishing seventh with Emperor Max in the Group 1 QIPCO British Champions Sprint Stakes (1200m) in 2015.
“It’s when he’s naughty that he’s at his best. He wasn’t like that after his last two runs.
“He’s thrived since he’s been here. He’s eating and drinking well, he’s come back to his best.
“Another week would have been good for sure, but he’s in the mode now and he’s as good as I can get him.
“His Monday workout was very good. It was probably more than we usually do back home, and the next day, he was bouncing.
“He’s acclimatised well, we’ve come out early to keep him happy, and he’s happy with himself. I’m sure he’ll run very well.
“No doubt, it’s different in respect of the track and all that, but if he runs fourth or fifth, I’ll be over the moon.”
Singapore based trainer Stephen Gray is no stranger to @Ascot-This time the @copperbelt_stc team are back with Lim's Cruiser in Sat's Diamond Jubilee Stakes. We paid Stephen & his team a visit to find out more about why he chooses to feed #REDMILLS #WhereverYouGoWeGo ??? pic.twitter.com/MVy1EZNjxj
— Connolly's RED MILLS (@REDMILLSHorse) June 19, 2019
Even if Lim’s Cruiser comes up short, he may have a few more bullets. Gray indicated he might press on with another crack or two at easier English races, but nothing’s been cast in stone – first, the big rock.
“The Diamond Jubilee was always his main target, but I have a gut feel he will come out even better after that race,” said the Kiwi handler.
“We may then look at other races for him, easier races. He will go even better in those races, but we’ll see how he goes on Saturday first and then discuss with Mr Lim (Siah Mong) and racing manager (Mick Dittman).
“Let’s take one race at a time.”
Lim’s Cruiser has drawn 12 which is somewhere in the middle of a race run in a straight line, and as a result, fairly inconsequential compared to a six-furlong run around one bend like at Kranji. It’s the opposition which will be the biggest barrier to Gray.
“Blue Point will be running after he won the King’s Stand last Tuesday. He’s the best sprinter in UK an that’s a bugger for us,” said Gray.
“Other horses like The Tin Man and Invincible Army are also very good. We’ve drawn 12, which is okay. No doubt, it won’t be easy, but we’re here to try our best and I hope he measures up.
“There are a few knockers out there regarding us bringing a horse out here. But I’m lucky to have a good horse – two actually, after Emperor Max – to be able to travel and put Singapore on the world map.
“It’s been extremely stressful since we’ve been here in England (since last Sunday week), but the biggest satisfaction out of all this is to see Mr Lim’s colours represent Singapore, his family and my family.”
Just like with Emperor Max, Gray has gone to UK with the whole family to soak in the Royal Ascot experience – both on and off the track.
“This is what racing is all about. The racing culture here is at another level,” said Gray.
“Here we can bring the kids to the races James is 17, just finished his National Service, and he’s enjoying helping me out with Cruiser. Katie is also up here as both have finished school, and both of them have caught up with their friends here.
“Bridget and I have also enjoyed the English hospitality, which is second to none. And at the races today, we were able to see Frankie (Dettori) win four in a row, including the Gold Cup (on Stradivarius), it’s just been an amazing week.”
Lim’s Cruiser’s pilot Vlad Duric has also been a major cog in the wheel, pretty much from Day 1 in England. The two-time Singapore champion jockey was able to fly to Newmarket early as he was serving a careless riding three-day suspension which ends one day before the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
“I only had the day off yesterday (Thursday), but every day I’ve ridden him, his energy level has built up,” said Duric who took that day off enjoying a spot of tourism with wife Storm.
“He had a nice gallop on Monday. He went down the bottom of the canter track first before he galloped off.
“He pigrooted and flicked himself around for a couple of furlongs. He has come over well from his trip well and was able to clear his wind nicely during the gallop.
“He feels a million dollars. I had to ask him to do a bit more up the hill as he’s not used to that, but as soon I walked him back to the ring, he recovered nicely.
“Like I’ve told the local media here, I have a gut feeling he will enjoy the straight track, but we don’t know until the day. I’ve walked the Ascot track and I noticed the climb from the barriers in the first 500m of the race.
“Lim’s Cruiser is a horse whose energy must be conserved, and hopefully we can tuck in early in the first half of the race. So, the biggest thing is that climb and we’ll just have to be patient early in the race.
“It’s all down to whether he will measure up. To finish in the top four or five would be like a win to us.”
— Kranji Broadcast TV ?? (@KranjiBroadcast) June 18, 2019
The Diamond Jubilee Stakes will take place at 11.20pm Singapore time. Telebet account holders can watch the race ‘live’ on the Horse Racing Channel.