By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
South African jockey Juan Paul van der Merwe said there was only one way Surpass Natural can upstage hot favourite Bold Thruster on Sunday – if he brings the same dazzling form he was in at his last-start win and then some.
That day, Surpass Natural was coming off a run of three defeats strung up in Group company. Prior to that form slide, he had racked up a five-in-a-row.
Returning from the COVID-19 enforced holiday on July 26, the Leticia Dragon-trained five-year-old bounced straight back to the winner’s enclosure in a Class 2 race over 1100m, defying a four-wide trip clapping on the hot early sectionals to clear out for an impressive one-length win.
In the irons for the second time (the first time, they ran nowhere in the Group 3 New Year Cup), van der Merwe felt the full rush of that rousing win then, but cautioned that the son of Elvstroem still faces a stiffer test in the $250,000 Group 2 Merlion Trophy (1200m) this Sunday.
Between the top-rated Bold Thruster (107 points) and Surpass Natural (91 points), there is a difference of eight kilos, but the weight-for-age conditions of the race pit all runners level at 57.5kgs.
In a nutshell, van der Merwe’s message is: The bare minimum is that last-start winning form, but if that is still not enough, then he will have to really “surpass” himself.
“He really won a cracker last time out,” said the lightweight jockey who is enjoying a much better second season at Kranji – and that is after sitting at home for three months like everybody else – needing only two wins to emulate last year’s haul of 14.
“Leticia has kept him fresh with slow work on Tuesday, as well as a jump out of the gates last Thursday. I rode him on both occasions.
“Bold Thruster is the favourite and will be difficult to beat, but my horse is well, his work has been good, even if we’ve just kept him ticking over.
“But he will have to reproduce that form at his last start to be competitive.”
Surpass Natural in barrier five, has drawn better than Bold Thruster, who has drawn out in nine. Van der Merwe has a mind to make full use of the way the cards have been dealt.
“Bold Thruster is quick, so is my horse. We have drawn better and I hope Bold Thruster will have to work a bit harder to go forward,” said van der Merwe, a winner of the Grade 1 J&B Met in 2016 with longshot Smart Call back home, but who has yet to salute at Group level in Singapore.
Tactics will also be uppermost on van der Merwe’s mind at his other handy ride of the day, My Big Boss in the $70,000 Beau Brummell 2009 Stakes Class 3 Division 2 race over 1000m.
While van der Merwe has forged a good chemistry with the Lee Freedman-trained Smart Missile five-year-old, having won three times from seven rides (all at his last seven starts), he does have some misgivings, and it’s not the rise in grade.
“The Class 3 is a big question mark, but I’m more worried about the 1000m, to be honest,” he said.
“They will go hard early, and I’ll just have to keep him happy. He’s not a horse you can just ride where you want.
“He likes to wait and you have to wait until he’s ready before pushing the button. Still, I know the horse well, and I’m still confident he will run well.”
That confidence and close affinity were plain to see at their last-start win in a Class 4 race over 1200m on August 2. Settled in midfield with cover, My Big Boss naturally improved into a striking position when van der Merwe ever so slightly nudged him towards the middle of the track at the top of the straight.
Water Rocket was going full bore hard up against the fence, but My Big Boss was only still being cuddled along, with his rider only pulling the whip at the 100m, just to keep him lengthening up through the line.