By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
Smart miler Countofmontecristo reaches a new stage of his stellar career when he steps out for his first race under three-time Singapore champion trainer Mark Walker this Saturday.
Walker, who only received the former Michael Clements-trained galloper last Friday, has not taken long to find a contest for his new precious charge, the $100,000 Class 1 race over 1600m.
Raced by Joe Singh, Countofmontecristo is the highest rated horse in work at Kranji on 115 points (after Aramco, on 118 points, but who is spelling). He last ran in the Group 1 Kranji Mile on August 16, finishing third to Aramaayo after being caught three wide for most of the trip.
His new handler cannot fault his condition going into Saturday’s race, but is wary of the hard run he had in the Kranji Mile.
“He’s come from Mike in fantastic condition. It’s a short turnaround for a first start, but he’s come to us in wonderful order,” said the Kiwi trainer.
“He seems happy and seems well, but I’m just a bit concerned by the hard run he had in the Kranji Mile. He certainly had a hell of a tough run, he had no favours racing three wide with no cover before he hit the front at the top of the straight.
“At the back of your mind, you’d think he might be backing up a bit quickly, but we won’t know until he runs.
“Joe told me he wanted the horse to run in this race. It seems to be the logical step towards the other big races we will aim at later.”
The Singapore Triple Crown series made up of the Group 1 Raffles Cup (1600m), Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (1800m) and Group 1 Singapore Gold Cup (2000m) are the feature races being targeted for the seven-year-old son of Echoes Of Heaven.
The shock transfer from Clements to Walker came about shortly after the Kranji Mile. Singh decided the 10-time winner, multiple-Group winner but up to Group 2 level, and earner of more than $2 million in stakes under Clements was due for a change of scenery.
Countofmontecristo was the last of a group of horses to leave the Zimbabwean-born trainer, others like Eye Guy, Yabadabadoo and Gingerella having been transferred earlier.
With the top impost of 59kgs this Saturday, Walker is putting his three-kilo-claiming apprentice jockey Hakim Kamaruddin on top. The Malaysian is one of the up-and-coming riders rising through the apprentice ranks, having already notched 17 winners, only one behind current leader and reigning champion Simon Kok Wei Hoong.
He will also become the 16th jockey to ride Countofmontecristo. Five have won on him, with Glen Boss the most successful partner on five wins.
“Joe suggested we put Hakim on his horse. It will take three kilos off the 59kgs,” said Walker.
Stablemate Yulong Edition is also in the line-up. The Irish-bred five-year-old by Makfi contested the Kranji Mile as well, but unlike Countofmontecristo, had fewer excuses to offer for his dismal showing (14th of 16).
“He just wasn’t good enough. He’s more of a handicap horse,” said Walker.
“There aren’t enough Class 1 or Class 2 races for him, while the other races aren’t suited to him. There is a lack of opportunities for such horses, and I think it’s about to get worse.
“It’s hard to get a jockey who can ride at 50kgs. So, I thought I might as well use (Choon Kiat) CK Ng (also claims three kilos) and let him carry 47kgs.
“Both horses are well, but I wouldn’t want any rain for either. It rained a lot last week, but it’s a bit better this week, and I hope it holds up.”