Via Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
I’m Incredible’s unbelievable run at the highest level keeps soaring to another dimension after he held sway in an outstanding field of some of Kranji’s best stayers to land the $800,000 Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (1800m) on Sunday.
Although the winning margin was razor-thin, the Lope De Vega five-year-old was racking up his fifth win in a row in the second Leg of the Singapore Triple Crown series, with the last two wins coming at Group 3 level in the Committee’s Prize (1600m) in August and the Ultima El Dorado Classic (2000m) last month.
While it was lightweight jockey A’Isisuhairi ‘Harry’ Kasim who did the honours at those two ground-breaking wins, champion jockey Vlad Duric (who had a prior win on him) was reinstated in the plate on Sunday.
With a standard 58kgs allotted to all runners bar the three mares (1.5kg relief) in the weight-for-age feature, trainer Shane Baertschiger decided to hand the reins back to the senior rider.
The two-time Singapore champion jockey backed the handler’s judgement with a faultless ride that saw I’m Incredible ($30) sustain what must have felt like an incredibly long run to the winning post to just outbob King Louis (William Pike) by a nostril.
A large share of the win is owed to Duric’s mastery in the first 800m. After I’m Incredible sprang out of the outermost alley in 15, Duric was seen deftly plotting a path towards a cushy posie on the girth of the leader, Singapore Derby winner Sun Marshal (Joseph Azzopardi) for most of the way.
When the latter started to fade at the top of the straight, I’m Incredible suddenly found himself in front. Over the Long Course, the willing chestnut still needed all the coaxing in the world from Duric to get to that faraway point where the camera flashbulbs were waiting.
The other runners were paddling away. Triple Crown first leg (Raffles Cup) winner Makanani (Marc Lerner) loomed momentarily within striking distance, but then bowed out as I’m Incredible ran away from her.
It was the blinkered-again King Louis who proved to be the only one who could deal a late blow. Under the Perth champion jockey, the Medaglia d’Oro five-year-old took a while to lengthen up, but when he finally did, he lunged at the post only to come up short by a nose.
Sun Marshal, who looked like he would capitulate when I’m Incredible shot past him, actually plugged on gamely for third place another 1 ¾ lengths away. The winning time was 1min 48.06secs for the 1800m on the Long Course.
Amidst all the celebrations and handshakes, Baertschiger was certainly touched by a sportsmanlike A’Isisuhairi (finished last on Elite Quarteto) who was among one of the first well-wishers to congratulate him upon unsaddling.
The Australian handler tried to recompose himself at the post-race interviews, but he was clearly a lot more overwhelmed with emotion and struggling for words this time around.
“There is no way I thought a few months back that he would win two Group 3s and now a Group 1, but he’s come on by leaps and bounds,” said Baertschiger whose previous Group 1 triumph came with Aramco in the Lion City Cup in May.
“I thought he got beat today, but he was so tough. Vlad rode him a treat.
“This is the sixth Group race we’ve won this year, things have gone amazingly well for us this year.
“This horse has been unbelievable for us and (owner) Desmond Ong. We had him over the wrong distance in sprints on Polytrack before.
“He won the El Dorado Classic over 2000m, so the trip is not a worry. Let’s hope he can win the Gold Cup, too.”
The Group 1 Dester Singapore Gold Cup (2000m) is the third and last instalment of the Singapore Triple Crown series and will be run on November 10.
In seven years since taking over his father Don, Baertschiger has yet to claim Singapore’s holy grail (it eluded his father as well), and neither has Duric, who would certainly also love to add the coveted race to his trophy cabinet.
The mercurial Australian jockey, who was at his second QEII Cup success after Quechua (ironically trained by King Louis’ trainer Ricardo Le Grange) won two years ago, said it would depend what weight I’m Incredible would get in the Gold Cup.
“I was actually happy with our draw (15). I had 800m to figure it out, I took my time before crossing over as he can be a bit of a goer and can get on the bridle,” said Duric.
“I didn’t want to dig him out of the box. When he came out, he got a nice spot outside the leader and dropped his head right away, and was very relaxed.
“I had full control of him, and I didn’t use much gas to get him there. At the top of the straight, the leader (Sun Marshal) was gone and I waited for a few strides before letting him go.
“I think he was waiting for one horse in the last bit. King Louis came at us late, and I thought I got beat.
“I asked Pikey and he had no idea as well, and I thought ‘that didn’t help’! I’m such a bad judge, and I’m glad we got there.
“Pikey told me he thought he’d get me, but he told me my horse is such a tough bugger and is so hard to get past.
“I think King Louis will be a great chance in the Gold Cup, though. We’ll see what I’m Incredible gets in the Gold Cup, if it’s a weight I can make, then I’ll ride or else it’ll be Harry (A’Isisuhairi Kasim) who will be back on.”
With that sixth win from 10 starts, I’m Incredible sees his prizemoney level almost treble to around $700,000 for Ong’s Doha Stable.
One of the gracious losers in the aftermath of the thrilling race was King Louis’ owner Steve Levar, who with wife Christine, could not believe how agonisingly close they came to seeing what would have been a fitting crowning moment of their King in the Queen’s race!
“I’m very proud of him. I thought he won, but it wasn’t for this time,” said Levar.
“If there was a bit of rain, it would have made a difference. Willie said he would have won.”
The Levars could not wait for the next three weeks to roll along.
“He really ran like he wanted to win in the last strides. To me, it felt like a win,” said Christine Levar.
“We can’t wait for the Gold Cup to arrive.”