By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
The big pull in weights might have swung the race Mr Malek’s way, but the result was still a conclusive test towards the progressive four-year-old’s real mission in two weeks’ time, the Group 1 Singapore Guineas (1600m).
Untested beyond 1400m before Saturday (all previous five wins were over 1200m), Mr Malek was thrown in at the deep end in the $100,000 Class 1 race over the mile for one main objective – can he run out the Guineas trip.?
On 59kgs, favourite Countofmontecristo, who was last week transferred from Michael Clements to Mark Walker, gave nine kilos all around, but with Walker’s apprentice jockey Hakim Kamaruddin’s claim shaving three kilos off, the gap was narrowed down to six kilos.
At the top of the straight, as tearaway leader Lim’s Samurai (Chin Chee Seng) and Loyalty Man (Mohammad Nizar), who had the field well strung out, started to come back to the chasing pack, Hakim peeled Countofmontecristo out for his run.
At that moment, with the 10-time winner seemingly in full cry and Mr Malek (A’Isisuhairi Kasim) still standing him five to six lengths, the weights and measures would probably count for nothing in the end.
But the Count suddenly hit a brickwall. His stablemate Yulong Edition (Ng Choon Kiat), with only 47kgs on his back, was on the other hand finishing off with a better running action, but under A’Isisuhairi’s urgings, Mr Malek, putting a wing on every foot, swooped down on the outside to land the spoils.
Yulong Edition held on gamely for second place to just edge Countofmontecristo out by a short head. The winning time was 1min 34.89secs for the 1600m on the Long Course.
Freedman could not have hoped for a better Singapore Guineas trial, but one could sense the champion trainer was still in two minds whether ticking that distance box would be good enough on September 26.
In other words, Freedman certainly lapped up Mr Malek’s impressive sixth win, but when another target is in the crosshairs, it can give rise to a happy headache.
“It was a funny decision to run him in today’s race. He needed to win to progress to the Guineas and he’s done just that,” said the Australian Hall of Fame trainer.
“If he didn’t run well, we could have gone back to sprints and press towards the Lion City Cup instead.
“When you know you’re going to bump into a horse like Inferno in the Guineas, first you must make sure your horse can run the trip.”
Originally scheduled in May, the Group 1 Lion City Cup (1200m) is the country’s premier sprint and will now be held on October 25.
Freedman said the Oscar Racing Stable-owned rising star had a fair trip from his awkward alley, but he had his heart in his mouth when he saw how far back he still was in the home straight.
“At the 300m, I thought he was 100-1 to win,” he said.
“Countofmontecristo was six lengths clear and running away, but Harry knows this horse well now. He’s riding in really great form and he showed really good timing.
“Mr Malek is a horse who still has scope for improvement, but he will take Inferno in the Guineas.
“At least, I know the horse can run the trip and it’s not an unknown quantity anymore. On that run, he’s going for the Guineas.”
With that sixth win from eight starts, Mr Malek, a four-year-old by Swiss Ace, has now chalked up around $255,000 in stakes earnings for the Oscar Racing Stable.