Winning Derby duo takes aim at Raffles on way to Gold

Sun Marshal (Joseph Azzopardi) holds stablemate Mr Clint (Bernardo Pinheiro) off in the Singapore Derby.
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Via Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club

Joseph Azzopardi has a feeling Sun Marshal has made further headway since their Singapore Derby heroics, even if he candidly admitted he could be biased.

“It feels like he has come on after the Derby. I don’t know, maybe he’s the same, but he gave me such a buzz that I feel that way,” he said.

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A relative unknown until recently, except at his own Perth backyard where he is regarded among the up-and-comers, Azzopardi was propelled into the Kranji and international limelight after he won his first Group 1 race in the third and most prestigious Leg of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge with Lee Freedman’s horse.

The only silverware in his trophy cabinet up until then were a couple of Group 3’s in Western Australia.

Two months have elapsed, that dream day has finally sunk in, but that excitement may well resurface as Sun Marshal makes his racing comeback in another Group 1 race this Sunday, the $800,000 Raffles Cup (1600m).

Freedman also brings back in that feature race the Singapore Derby runner-up Mr Clint, who will incidentally have the same visiting Brazilian jockey in the irons, Bernardo Pinheiro.

The stakes may not be as high as in the Derby, but Sun Marshal’s first test against the big boys will give a good guide where the Sepoy five-year-old is at with regards to his November mission, the Group 1 Dester Singapore Gold Cup (2000m).

“I’ve jumped back on Sun Marshal many times since the Derby. I’m the one who gallop him in the mornings,” said Azzopardi.

“He’s going good. I’m actually very happy with him, he feels stronger and fresher.

“He wants further, though. The last Leg, the Gold Cup, that’s his race, that’s his grand final.

“But he’ll go well over the mile first-up. He’ll be on the speed as usual and Lee has him rock-hard fit.”

With Azzopardi up, Sun Marshal ran a close fourth to stablemate Super Dynasty in a barrier trial on September 3. The workload was kept at him through two gallops thereafter.

“He ran a nice trial two weeks ago. Lee was meant to give him another, but gave him a couple of hard gallops instead,” said Azzopardi.

“He’s fit enough. It’s a bigger test for sure as he ran against his own age group in the Derby, and now he’s up against the big guns at weight-for-age.

“But I think he’s a top five chance and like I said, he’ll be better suited by the next two Legs.”

The second Leg is the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (1800m) on October 20 while the Dester Singapore Gold Cup, the only handicap race of the three Legs, will be run three weeks later on November 10.

Azzopardi has taken a while to regain his momentum after he was suspended for three days for careless riding (Gamely) one week after the Derby.

Few rides have come his way since his return in the third week of August. He had to wait for another four weeks before he brought up his 12th Kranji winner Tom Cat last Friday.

But the bookings on his favourite Kranji horse, coupled with another leading chance on Friday, Spirit Of Big Bang, have bolstered his spirits a little.

Azzopardi rode the Irish-bred four-year-old at his debut in an Open Maiden race over 1200m, bringing him from near-last with a withering burst only to fail to peg back the leader Grand Choice by a neck.

The Michael Clements-trained Intikhab four-year-old gets a golden chance to go one better in this Friday’s $20,000 Secret Win 2017 Stakes, an Open Maiden race over 1400m.

“He put in a massive run on debut,” said Azzopardi.

“He was a bit slow out of the gates and was way too far back, but he flashed home well for second.

“The 1400m will suit him better and barrier No 2 will help, too. He’ll definitely be hard to beat if he can perform up to his last race.

“He seems to be a nice horse and will get a mile in time to come.”