By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
After River Radiance overcame adversity to run a gallant first-up third in a Class 2 race over 1100m, trainer Mok Zhan Lun decided that the $250,000 Group 2 Merlion Trophy (1200m) was worth a roll of the dice.
A Class 2 race over 1200m ($85,000 Ninetyfive Emperor 2004 & 2005 Stakes), also on Polytrack, this Sunday could have been the softer option, but the Singaporean handler couldn’t pass up the rare chance of addressing that void on his 10-year resume – a feature race win.
River Radiance is without a doubt the only conveyance in his small-scale barn, who can help him hit that elusive milestone.
The Polytrack specialist (all four wins between 1100m and 1200m) already holds a special place in his heart for having given him his 200th win at Kranji on July 19, 2019.
Granted, this new assignment around a year later is even tougher, especially with Bold Thruster having terrorised the opposition off, down to only nine horses going under the starter’s orders.
But Mok is thrilled to have a ticket, which he will clutch in his hand until the first horse crosses the line at around 5.31pm on Sunday.
“I was very happy with his last run (on August 8). He got galloped on and still came in third (to Sacred Rebel),” said Mok.
“Without that incident, I’m not saying he would have won, but he could have finished closer. He came back with lacerations to his leg, he’s over it now as it was only a skin issue.
“As he runs well on Polytrack, I thought why not give him a go in the Merlion Trophy. It’s the only sprint trophy race on Polytrack as well.”
Mok has booked Marc Lerner for the ride. The French jockey rode the Rip Van Winkle five-year-old once, in the Group 2 Stewards’ Cup (1600m), the second Leg of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge, on March 20, but beat one home.
To Mok, nothing much could be said about the ride. It was the horse who didn’t stay.
“I tested him twice over longer trips (1400m and 1600m), but it didn’t work out. From now on, I will keep him to sprint races on the Polytrack,” he said.
At his second season at Kranji in 2011, which to this day is his most successful with 37 winners for a 13th spot on the log, Mok had another all-weather lover who was more adept over short trips as well – Dr Grigoros.
Unlike River Radiance who is quite versatile in his racing pattern, Dr Grigoros was a dead-set frontrunner who won his races by rolling forward, running his opponents off their feet with his high cruising speed. The chestnut son of My Halo won five in a row from Initiation to Open level (all on Polytrack), but never took part in a Group race.
He did, however, give Mok the one memento standing on his sideboard, Polytrack champion horse in 2011.
Whether the Macau-owned River Radiance can add one more trophy this weekend remains to be seen, but his handler is happy with the work he has put into is charge.
“He has definitely improved on his race fitness after that first run,” he said.
“He had his last gallop today (with track rider on). He did it effortlessly.
“I was happy with that. The horse is fit and well.”