By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
Punters were left shellshocked after Passport To Rome emerged the unlikely winner of the $100,000 Class 1 race over 1400m on Sunday.
Granted, the seven-year-old enjoyed the run of the race in the box-seat behind race-leader Lim’s Samurai (Chin Chee Seng), but with heavyweights such as Siam Blue Vanda, Top Knight, Mr Clint and I’m Incredible in the line-up, most thought he might have to hang in for a minor spot at best.
But at the 300m, once veteran jockey Azhar Ismail had switched Passport To Rome ($215) around Lim’s Samurai to hit the front, there was a sudden realisation he could trump the whole chasing brigade.
Siam Blue Vanda (Louis-Philippe Beuzelin) and Top Knight (Simon Kok Wei Hoong) were hamstrung in traffic while I’m Incredible (Vlad Duric) looked dour after being trapped three wide throughout.
King Louis (Benny Woodworth), who had followed closer to the pace than usual, was shaping up as the biggest threat when he came upsides, but Passport To Rome showed no signs of letting up.
Threeandfourpence (Ryan Munger) and Sacred Croix (Ng Choon Kiat), both unfancied, were the ones who could still overhaul Passport To Rome as they stormed home through the field and on the outside respectively, but they also fell short, narrowly missing a podium finish.
Passport To Rome scored by half-a-length from King Louis with Lim’s Samurai pulling plenty to hang on for third place another half-length away. The winning time for the 1400m on the Short Course was 1min 22.04secs.
Trainer Shane Baertschiger, who saddled three runners in the race (I’m Incredible and Preditor are the other two), might have led in the least expected occupant at the winner’s stall, but said the track bias was in Passport To Rome’s favour.
“The track bias played into the hands of frontrunners all day,” said the Australian handler.
“Most of the horses were in the race as a lead-up to the Kranji Mile. My horse is a 1400m horse and once in front, it was hard to catch him.
“I’m Incredible was caught three wide the whole way and he’s not a 1400m horse. We are still pressing on with the Kranji Mile with him.
“As for Preditor, he’s also entered for the Kranji Mile. He has a terrible first-up record, he went back to last and couldn’t make up ground from there.”
Azhar, who seldom rides for Baertschiger even if they figure among those who have been around Kranji and even Bukit Timah (when Baertschiger was assistant-trainer to his father Don) the longest, was lapping up the moment. Passport To Rome was his only ride of the day, and even then, it fell on is lap by default.
“I was meant to ride Exceed Natural for Leticia Dragon, but he was second Emergency Acceptor,” said the Malaysian, who at 56, is the oldest jockey riding on the Malayan Racing Association circuit.
“(Assistant-trainer) Scotty (Bailey) was the one who called me and asked me if I could ride their horse at 50kgs. I was like ‘sure I can’.
“Shane told me he is a horse who can lead, but if there is a faster horse, to just let him lead. He said he’s a horse who can pull if he is too far back.
“He also told me he is a one-pacer and there won’t be much speed in the race. When we jumped out, one horse (Lim’s Samurai) wanted to go to the lead and I happily took a sit.
“He was always travelling for me. He was a little keen but was always under my control.
“At the 600m, I moved him up and coming into the straight, I was like ‘horse got chance’.
“He gave me a good response, and he just kept going. I’m very happy of course, as it was my only ride of the day.
“Days are even tougher now as I can’t go back to Malaysia. At least I will be able to enjoy that win tonight.”
Formerly known as Paparazzi, Passport To Rome had a short stint with trainer Tan Kah Soon before returning to Baertschiger for whom he has now scored all his five wins – first three over 1200m when known as Paparazzi and last two over 1400m when known as Passport To Rome this year.
All up, the son of Snitzel has now amassed in excess of $330,000 for his owners, the Sainsburys Stable.