Via Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
Nearly two years after three-time Singapore champion jockey Manoel Nunes bowed out of Kranji, he makes a surprise riding comeback to his old stomping ground this Sunday.
The Brazilian jockey ruled the roost at Kranji between 2013 and 2017, winning three champion jockey titles from 2014 to 2016, and finishing runner-up at the other two seasons.
Nunes was, however, not relicensed for a sixth instalment in 2018. He has since shuttled from Macau, where he once won six champion jockey titles, to South Korea, and is currently licensed in Mauritius where he has taken the 207-year-old Champ de Mars racecourse by storm.
Revered by his newfound fans as one of the best jockeys to have graced the racing-mad Indian Ocean island, Nunes has won three of their four Grand Slam feature races in only eight months, and is the current table-topper, six winners clear of a trio, remarkably, also made up of ex-Kranji jockeys, Derreck David, Nooresh Juglall and Olivier Placais.
When an invitation from Singapore owner Joe Singh to ride Countofmontecristo in this Sunday’s $800,000 Group 1 Raffles Cup (1600m) came, the reply was, however, not a spontaneous ‘yes’.
Nunes is retained by the Shyam Hurchund stable and its main owner David Chui Wan Cheong, and while the Mauritius Saturday, September 21 meeting didn’t clash with the Raffles Cup meeting, there are only three weekly seven-hour flights between Mauritius and Singapore, and none scheduled on Saturday night.
But after discussing with his bosses, Nunes gave the nod to Singh given his stable was fielding only one runner this Saturday.
After knocking back two previous short-term applications from Nunes, the Singapore Turf Club gave the go-ahead this time, paving the way for the return of probably the most popular Brazilian at Kranji after Joao Moreira. By the same token, two other jockeys from the samba nation will ride at the Raffles Cup meeting, Luan Machado (Elite Excalibur and also rides Elite Quarteto in the Group 3 Ultima El Dorado Classic on Friday) and Bernardo Pinheiro (Mr Clint), but who are both from the more recent vintage in Rio de Janeiro.
Known as a big-race jockey, Nunes, however, remained professional about the pitstop visit. A winner of 71 Group races, including 22 in Singapore, notably the Group 1 Emirates Singapore Derby twice (Spalato in 2014 and Infantry in 2017) and the Group 3 Colonial Chief Stakes with Nova Strike that came as his last Kranji salute on December 3, 2017, Nunes is just treating the raid as any other job, while thankful for the opportunity.
“I was riding in Korea when Joe asked me to ride Countofmontecristo and Eye Guy in feature races last year, but it didn’t work out. He again asked me to ride Countofmontecristo in this year’s Raffles Cup, but I had to think about it,” said Nunes.
“As my stable had only one runner this Saturday, I spoke to David and he was very understanding. I couldn’t say ‘no’ to Joe this time, and I have to thank both him for the ride and David for giving me the permission to go and ride in Singapore this Sunday.
“I also have to thank Michael Clements as he has always been a good supporter of mine when I was riding in Singapore.
“I’ve ridden Countofmontecristo only once and we didn’t win (incidentally, in the 2017 Raffles Cup, then run over 1800m, when fourth to the late Gilt Complex), but I’ve seen his recent runs, including his win in the Group 2 Merlion Trophy (1200m) at his last start (August 25), and he’s in very good form.”
With Clements currently away, assistant-trainer Michael White confirmed that the Echoes Of Heaven six-year-old is racing in career-best form, with the help of an enforced rest through a pre-departure quarantine ahead of an Australian campaign which was eventually aborted.
“It’s great we’ve found another feature race for Countofmontecristo. No horse deserves a Group win more than him,” said the Australian.
“With Debt Collector gone, all of his best form has probably been in weight-for-age horse races. That quarantine was like a spell that has helped freshen him up.
“People might say we should have given the mile a miss, but the mile is about as far as he wants. He’s in good shape, and he’s very athletic, there’ll be no excuses for him on Sunday.”
Currently four winners short of the half-tonne in Singapore, Nunes has five more chances of getting closer to that milestone. He has also picked up the ride on Eye Guy in the $85,000 Class 2 race over the mile, also for Singh and Clements, while the other Singh he rides in the $30,000 Class 5 Division 1 race over 1400m is prepared by Jason Lim, Elena Of Avalor.
Besides the Singh booking, the 43-year-old jockey also rides Limited Edition and Lucky Tiger for new trainer Jason Ong, and newcomer Lago De Como for Tan Kah Soon on the undercard.
Nunes, who arrives in Singapore on Saturday and flies back to Mauritius on Tuesday, said he was really enjoying his stint in the tropics. While the republic island is infamously known as “revolving doors” for jockeys, Nunes should be all set to return for another stint next year.
“I’m having a great time in Mauritius. I’ve won three of their four classics and I am now leading the premiership,” he said.
“My main owner David looks after me very well, and supports me with a lot of good horses. We race once a week and it’s a great lifestyle, the people are friendly and the weather is like in Brazil!
“There are only 10 meetings left, and I’m already looking forward to the next season which begins in March.”