By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
We often hear of people saying if they had to do it all over again, they wouldn’t change a thing.
Having enjoyed a charmed life since he landed at Kranji about a year ago, riding winners after winners thanks mainly to the strong support from leading trainer Michael Clements, Louis-Philippe Beuzelin would be one of them.
But if the French jockey could turn back the clock and alter only 1min 33.97secs from the past, it would be his ride on beaten favourite Countofmontecristo in the $1 million Kranji Mile (1600m) on Sunday.
Beuzelin is never shy to talk up a horse’s chances, but neither is he one to run away from scrutiny if the race didn’t go to plan.
He has watched the video replay countless times, grinding his teeth each time he sees Countofmontecristo rolling forward from the start, trying to no avail to tuck in with cover in the capacity 16-horse field, and left with no other choice but to press forward four wide and hit the front on the swing – but left a sitting duck for the swoopers.
There were two: Aramaayo and his stablemate Top Knight, but like the Alexandre Dumas hero he is named after, the Count didn’t abdicate until the last strides, eventually conceding half-a-length to the winner Aramaayo and even losing second place to Top Knight by a short head.
Beuzelin won’t beat around the bush. He admitted it was not one of his better rides, but added it was also borne out of a plan hatched as a team.
To him, the plan made sense then, but if they could have whipped up a crystal ball, they would have switched to Plan B.
“At the end of the day, I’m the jockey and the buck stops at me. I’m my own worst critic, but I have to say we also discussed the way to ride him and we thought it was the most sensible plan,” said Beuzelin.
“We knew that the Short Course favoured horses close to the pace, and that’s why we decided to ride him positive, and settle in fifth or sixth position.
“I rode him like he was the best horse in the field, and it would take a very good horse to beat him on the day.
“Unfortunately, we were trapped three wide, but we did have cover from Sun Marshal in the backstraight. At that moment, I had plenty of horse underneath me.
“When I got alongside Sun Marshal, I tried to go forward, but Ryan Munger also pressed on to keep me wide, which made us take the corner wider than I would have liked.
“I have to say, though, that he improved into that position at 400m, effortlessly. He had a lot of petrol left in the tank.
“Maybe I was too confident for my own good when we found ourselves in front at the 350m, but that was when he thought he got the job done.
“Aramaayo poked his head in front, and took half-a-length on us. Count started to pick up again, but there is little time for a horse to quicken again on the Short Course.
“We could have rerun the race 1,000 times, and we will never get the same result. What I do know is if we had run him like we did in the Chairman’s Trophy, just flop out of the gates and let him find his own strides at the back, we could have won the race – but it’s over now.”
Not having had the benefit of hindsight in the Kranji Mile still cuts deep, but Beuzelin said a horse’s copybook should not be blotted by one faux-pas.
“It’s disappointing to have lost the race above all else, as we had prepared him to the minute for this race, he was in the best form of his life,” he said.
“I feel sorry for the connections, for Michael and Mr Joe Giovanni (Singh). I adore this horse, and I haven’t slept well since Sunday.
“I thought it would take a very good horse to beat him, and that horse was Aramaayo, who will be very hard to beat in the Singapore Derby.”
The Group 1 race over 1800m on September 6 is exceptionally open to Northern Hemisphere-bred four-year-olds and Southern Hemisphere-bred five-year-old this year due to the COVID-19 situation, hence ruling six-year-old Countofmontecristo out.
Beuzelin had long elected Siam Blue Vanda, another son of Echoes Of Heaven like Countofmontecristo, for the marquee race. He is in no way having second thoughts even if the Thai-owned Siam Blue Vanda lost at his first-up race with him aboard, and was also never a threat in the Kranji Mile (sixth).
“I’m still confident Siam Blue Vanda will show his true colours on the Long Course in the Derby. He didn’t have the runs he needed at his last two starts, if he gets the space he needs, he can turn things around,” he said.
Beuzelin gets a golden opportunity to turn things around for himself in a Group 2 Polytrack race this Sunday, the $250,000 Merlion Trophy (1200m) on another high-profile horse from the powerful Clements yard, Bold Thruster.
The stakes may not be as high as the Kranji Mile, but the Bajan-raised and English-trained jockey is aware another defeat might put a bit more pressure on his job.
Still, Beuzelin who claimed his second Kranji feature race – after Countofmontecristo’s Chairman’s Trophy – at his first and only jump on Bold Thruster in the Group 3 Silver Bowl (1400m) in February, is keeping his cool.
“The horse is physically ready for his comeback (after his last start in the Silver Bowl). He showed it at his two barrier trials, especially the last one (August 13),” said Beuzelin.
“To me, he has matured and has even more class now. He didn’t have the visors on in the trials, he was having a picnic out there, but he still ran very well.
“He’s also a lot more calm and relaxed. I understand him better now, we have bonded, and I think I may have found the key to him.”
Beuzelin said he noticed that the five-year-old son of Turffontein had not fully inherited the herd instinct of his species. A buzzword of these times we are living in now has inspired him: Social distancing.
“Bold Thruster is a solitary animal. As soon as there is a horse next to him, he pins his ears back and gets worked up,” he said.
“I spoke with Michael, and we decided we would leave the ring last and head to the gates on our own. We will then isolate him from the rest behind the gates, a bit like social distancing.”
When the race is underway, it’s a different story, the nine-time winner is in and amongst his peers. Even when he bombed the start, the bold black gelding in his eye-catching red colours quickly caught up with the crowd.
The question whether Bold Thruster can finally upgrade on his record of five Group 3 wins this Sunday will be on every racegoer’s lips, but Beuzelin is staying coy about his chances, partly after the sobering effect of Countofmontecristo’s defeat.
“It’s an open race. Bold Thruster has his chance, but you can’t be too complacent, especially after what happened on Sunday,” said Beuzelin.
“There will be plenty of pace in the race. It’s a small field, so the barriers are not so critical.
“My horse also has natural gate speed, but if horses like Surpass Natural and Skywalk go faster than him, that means they’re going too fast.”