By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
The Baertschigers and the Singapore Derby are not exactly intertwined, but likely favourite Aramaayo finally gives them a first genuine chance to add their name to the roll of honour this Saturday.
Retired trainer Don Baertschiger plied his trade at Bukit Timah and Kranji for 19 years, but the closest the Australian mentor came to winning one of Singapore’s most coveted races was in 2000 when Immovable Option with his stable jockey Eddie Wilkinson up beat all but the mighty Godolphin’s All The Way.
That year, the then Emirates-sponsored feature race was open to overseas raiders, but was still slated as the third Leg of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge.
Baertschiger didn’t have much luck with five other runners, mostly unfancied, but to be fair, his yard was not really teeming with smart four-year-olds. He didn’t field a single runner after Worth The Wait in 2007 all the way through 2012 when he handed the helm over to his son Shane.
Like a chip off the old block, the former assistant-trainer has easily slipped into his father’s big shoes, maintaining the same high standards of success, be it in bread-and-butter or Group races.
For example, what senior achieved at Group 1 level, junior has already matched. Don won the Lion City Cup with Capablanca in 2008, and 11 years later, Shane emulated the feat with Aramco, his first Group 1 winner.
Aramaayo landing the Kranji Mile three weeks ago also equalled the father’s feat 15 years ago with Really Good. When Shane claimed the Queen Elizabeth II Cup with I’m Incredible last year, Moon Shadow had been there done that for Don in 2004.
But through it all, the Singapore Derby has remained an elusive race for the Baertschigers. From five runners all-up, Preditor’s fifth to Infantry in 2017 was Shane’s best result, but the sixth try may well be the one to change all that.
“I haven’t had a great run in the Derby. I think Preditor gave me my best result when he ran fifth,” said Baertschiger.
“But Aramaayo is by far my best chance to win a Derby. He was bought for that race, anyway.”
Known as Aramayo in Australia when owned by Godolphin and trained by James Cummings, the son of Poet’s Voice certainly landed with the dream Derby profile.
In only 12 starts between Sydney and Melbourne, he boasts two Derby participations. He ran sixth to Extra Brut in the 2018 Group 1 Victoria Derby (2500m) at Flemington and he ran 11th to Angel Of Truth in the 2019 Group 1 Australian Derby (2400m) at Randwick at his last Australian start.
After two starts in maiden company (winning one at Canterbury) in Sydney, Aramaayo has competed exclusively at Group level, even claiming one of them, the Group 3 Spring Stakes (1600m) at Newcastle in 2018.
Such glowing CVs aren’t always a guarantee of success when a horse is moved to another country, but the Aramco Stable’s new stable star (they also raced Aramco) has definitely not lost his form on the plane.
“Right from Day 1, I knew he was quite smart. The day he beat Top Knight (Class 2 race over 1400m on February 9), he was impressive,” said Baertschiger.
“But he really put the writing on the wall in the second Leg of the 4YO series (Stewards’ Cup over 1600m). He bombed the start but still ran third.
“I knew then we had a genuine Derby horse on our hands. His win in the Kranji Mile proved it.”
Baertschiger reported that Aramaayo has thrived since the Kranji Mile win, and couldn’t be better prepared for his next Group 1 task.
“I couldn’t be happier with his gallop this morning. Matthew Kellady rode him and they went great. If the race wasn’t brought forward (from Sunday) to Saturday, I would have galloped him tomorrow,” he said.
“The first time over 1800m here is not a worry as he’s raced up to 2500 metres back home. The horse has trained on and I expect a big run this Saturday.”
Ruan Maia, who struck it lucky at his first pairing with Aramaayo in the Kranji Mile, will keep the ride in the Singapore Derby.