Via Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
After 713 days without finding the line, classy galloper Countofmontecristo finally returned to the winner’s circle on Sunday – and in a feature race for good measure, the $400,000 Group 2 Merlion Trophy (1200m).
No doubt, the 2017 Singapore champion three-year-old had to muscle his way to score by a slender margin. But given that success had eluded him since the Group 3 Jumbo Jet Trophy (1400m) on September 10, 2017, the narrowness of the win mattered little, connections were just delighted the wait was over.
After the Jumbo Jet, the son of Echoes Of Heaven failed to salute in 14 subsequent starts – all at Group level bar one.
Though seldom disgraced with six seconds and one third, the barren run was starting to feel desperately long for owner Joe Singh and trainer Michael Clements.
The decision to run him in a Polytrack sprint championship might have at first glance cocked a few eyebrows, but the true pundits would know Clements hadn’t knocked his head. Countofmontecristo ran a close second to Distinctive Darci in the same race last year.
Granted, he is no all-weather boffin, but at his only other two attempts, he delivered (including that memorable debut when he thumped his Restricted Maiden rivals with Mohd Zaki up) – and after the Merlion Trophy’s nail-biting win from stablemate Bold Thruster (Joseph Azzopardi), it now stands as a flawless record of three-from-three.
Clements said that on the duo’s glowing credentials – even if Bold Thruster, a gun six-time winner as a four-year-old for trainer Shane Baertschiger, was at his first start for him – he was expecting a forward showing from both.
But to see them ending up as the two main protagonists fighting out the finish – with the 1-2 finish the cherry on the cake, went beyond his wildest dreams.
“It could have gone either way with Bold Thruster fighting back on the fence, but Countofmontecristo showed his class,” said Clements.
“Any trainer dreams of such a great result, but a Polytrack race at Group 2 level was always going to be a tricky race for both, though.
“There was an option to send Countofmontecristo overseas (Australia) after his last run (in the Group 1 Kranji Mile on May 25), but Joe went back on his decision. We always felt he was a class horse, he was the best three-year-old and always ran great races, but things didn’t always go his way.
“To come back from 1600m and run a Group 2 race on Polytrack was a question mark, but he showed his class and did it. He’s best up to this trip and the mile.
“Bold Thruster has matched up well. It was a great effort considering it was his first run back from a break (since Lion City Cup when soundly beaten in sixth place by then-stablemate Aramco on May 25) and the surface is not really his go either.
“I’m really pleased with the way both horses ran today.”
Winning jockey Daniel Moor would himself derive plenty of personal satisfaction for having succeeded where many have failed.
Prior to the Australian jockey’s first booking on the previous seven-time winner (with Glen Boss the most successful on five wins), no fewer than nine jockeys have hopped aboard in a bid to resurrect that winning flair, but have been jocked off faster than you can say “Alexandre Dumas” (the author of the classic novel, The Count of Monte Cristo).
Moor, whose only previous local ‘black type’ victory came with the Lee Freedman-trained Blizzard (a beaten contender in Sunday’s Merlion Trophy) in the Group 3 Fortune Bowl in February, has certainly done his chance of lasting in the saddle a little longer, no harm.
“He actually began a bit sticky. Nowyousee was loitering around in front of us, and I was waiting for him to go forward so we could get cover,” said Moor.
“He had a beautiful trip thereafter. Mister Yeoh and Blizzard were safely tucked away and Zac Kasa and Bold Thruster were containing a gallop.
“I was on the right horse, and he went magic on the Polytrack. He had a bit of a think, but I got stuck into him and luckily, he got up.
“Mike’s done an amazing job with this horse, and well done to Joe. This horse can be a candidate for these better races later, and hopefully, I get to sit on him then.”
After a smart jump form the awkward alley (12), Moor had to, however, ease his mount off before tacking onto the back of a few runners to improve to fifth spot midrace, well within striking distance of the eye-balling pair of Bold Thruster (outside) and Zac Kasa (Michael Rodd, inside).
Surprisingly, Mister Yeoh (Ben Thompson), a query on the Polytrack, was handier than anticipated, with the resuming Blizzard (Patrick Moloney), the first Singaporean runner (second to Southern Legend) in the Kranji Mile, also in the firing line.
But Moor produced a clever move when he got stuck into Countofmontecristo from the 400m in order to gain that plum advantage of taking the race up to the leaders before the others.
When the pressure was poured, Zac Kasa folded, but Bold Thruster proved a hard nut to crack. Though collared and headed by Countofmontecristo, the black machine was not throwing in the towel on the inside.
The two Clements riders threw everything bar the kitchen sink at their mounts for an epic battle that those who paid for the admission fee were lucky to be treated to.
Like that prize fighter who does not know the meaning of defeat, Bold Thruster punched his way back and lunged at the post, but Countofmontecristo stuck his head out when it mattered and won the bob, beating the brave son of Turffontein by a shorthead. Mister Yeoh held on gamely for his third place another 1 ¾ lengths away, just a neck ahead of Blizzard.
Old champion War Affair (Alysha Collett) ran on late for a creditable fifth another three lengths away, but had he not missed the kick and struggled to keep up with the early pace on a surface he was exploring for the first time at the age of nine, there is every conceivable chance the multiple Group winner could have finished much closer.
Countofmontecristo clocked the smart time of 1min 10.49secs for the 1200m on the Polytrack, only 0.75 second outside the course record set by Rocket Man in the Group 3 Woodlands Handicap in 2010.
With that eighth win, Countofmontecristo has now taken his prizemoney past the $1.5 million for Singh.