via Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
Former leading three-year-old Top Knight is being thrown in at the deep end at his racing comeback as a four-year-old this Sunday, but trainer Michael Clements still expects the brilliant Singapore Guineas winner to put his best foot forward first-up.
The Australian-bred son of Zoustar was spelled after his slashing victory in the third and final Leg of the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge over the mile on May 25.
The Thai-owned galloper is odds-on to be crowned 2019 Singapore champion three-year-old after having also won the second Leg, the Group 2 Singapore Three-Year-Old Classic (1400m) and run second to now stablemate Bold Thruster in the first Leg, the Group 3 Singapore Three-Year-Old Sprint (1200m).
Top Knight (Vlad Duric) stamps his authority in the Group 1 Singapore Guineas (1600m) in May.
The Guineas success took Top Knight to a smart record of six wins and two placings in nine starts and close to $850,000 in prizemoney for the Falcon Racing No 7 Stable.
Clements has not rushed his precious charge back, having timed his return in line with the fast-approaching Singapore Triple Crown series. This Sunday’s $85,000 Tuxedo Moon 2011 Stakes, a Class 2 race over 1400m, was seen as the ideal starting point even if he faces a more daunting task against older and more seasoned rivals.
“The opposition is much tougher this time. At his last three races, he ran against his own age group, but this Sunday, he goes to open age in Class 2,” said the Zimbabwean-born handler who has booked Daniel Moor for the ride given regular partner Vlad Duric (who rides stablemate Eye Guy on 54.5kgs instead) cannot make 53kgs.
“Obviously, there are some fitness concerns as he had a pretty tough campaign, but he had a well-deserved break.
“All his prep has been good. Even if that will be just a prep run to kick things off towards the bigger races like the Raffles Cup and the QEII Cup later, he has a load of class and is such a genuine horse that I think he still has a good chance.
“Whatever he does on Sunday, he will take improvement from that run.”
Clements has always seen a racing future mapped towards middle-distance races for Top Knight, hence a campaign geared towards the first Leg of the Triple Crown, the Group 1 Raffles Cup (1600m) on September 22 to start with. The next two Legs lengthen up to 1800m for the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup on October 20 and 2000m for the Group 1 Dester Singapore Gold Cup on November 10.
One horse Clements thought could stay but has not quite delivered is Eye Guy, also running alongside Top Knight on Sunday, as well as Polytrack specialist Yabadabadoo who has shown ambivalent qualities surface-wise of late.
“We tried Eye Guy over a bit of ground (in the Group 1 Singapore Derby over 1800m at his last start). He did get the mile, but not further than that,” he said.
“He’s back over 1400m and should be well suited. He’s really fit and that’s his class.
“He has a strong rider in Vlad Duric, a good barrier, and I expect him to run better this time.
“We can still look at the Raffles Cup for him; his owner (Joe Singh) might think differently. We’ll see.
“As for Yabadabadoo, he had a few last good starts on the turf over 1400m (two seconds) and has been consistent. He appears to now like the trip and surface and also has claims.”
Clements is also looking forward to high-profile stable transfer Bold Thruster having his first start for him in the day’s main event, the $400,000 Group 2 Merlion Trophy (1200m) one race later.
The son of Turffontein is resuming since his defeat (sixth) by ex-stablemate Aramco in the Group 1 Lion City Cup (1200m) on May 25. Clements also saddles old stalwart Countofmontecristo in the Polytrack feature (see earlier report).
On his work and condition, Clements could not fault Bold Thruster, a six-time winner including three at Group 3 level for the Tivic Stable when prepared by trainer Shane Baertschiger, but remained cautious about a flying start under his care.
“It’ll be a big test for Bold Thruster. His best runs were against three-year-olds, and when he ran in upper grade, they gave him weight,” said Clements.
“But this time, he’s at level weights with older and better horses and the draw is not good (11 will drop to nine after scratchings).
“He is deep into his preparation, though, and from what we’ve seen from his work on the tracks, he should run a very good race.”
Bold Thruster will be partnered for the first time by Singapore Derby-winning jockey Joseph Azzopardi. The Perth jockey was the one who rode the black gelding at his two barrier trials (second and first) before the Merlion Trophy.