Aramaayo takes Raffles Cup in a thriller

Aramaayo (Ruan Maia) sneaks up on the inside to bag the Group 1 Raffles Cup.

By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club

Kranji Mile winner Aramaayo bounced back to his brilliant best with a stirring second Group 1 success in Saturday’s $400,000 Raffles Cup (1600m).

After his Group 1 Kranji Mile heroics in August, Shane Baertschiger’s former Australian Group 3 Godolphin winner (Spring Stakes over 1600m at Newcastle in 2018) naturally figured among the leading hopes in the Group 1 Singapore Derby (1800m) on September 5, but unsuited by a slow tempo, he could only muster a watered down version of his trademark turn of foot for a battling fifth place to Top Knight.

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This time around, Aramaayo dropped out to the tail of the field, but midrace, they crawled again. Luckily, regular partner Ruan Maia (who first got on him in the Kranji Mile) has a clock in his head and took his own initiative to improve through the field, with the result that Aramaayo didn’t have that big a task to reel in the leaders on the swing.

To Baertschiger, that was the tactical nous that only very good jockeys have and can make the difference between winning and losing.

“The pace was too slow in the Derby, and he overraced. Today I told Maia to drop back, he’s better ridden back,” said Baertschiger.

“It was a brilliant ride from Maia. When they slowed up the pace, he made the right decision to improve inside runners.

“I was happy where he was throughout. I was not worried he was still around three lengths behind in the straight as I know he can finish it off, and he was too good.”

The leading pack Aramaayo had to gun down turned out to be the Lee Freedman trio of Sun Marshal (Ryan Munger), Minister (Simon Kok Wei Hoong) and Loyalty Man (Azhar Ismail), who led the way. Prominent throughout the first Leg of the Singapore Triple Crown series, they were locking horns for a Freedman trifecta at the 300m, but that dream result was shortlived as two swoopers came descending thick and fast via two opposite paths.

Keen as usual to fill that glaring Group 1 gap on his resume, second favourite Countofmontecristo (Louis-Philippe Beuzelin) was quickening like a winner on the outside while Maia, sharp as a tack when he observed the doors closing in front of him, elected to duck back to the inside rails for his equally stinging assault on Aramaayo.

The final upshot was a cliffhanger befitting of a Group 1 feature like the Raffles Cup, very much in the same mould as last year’s blanket finish captured by Makanani.

Sun Marshal boxed on doggedly in the middle, Countofmontecristo lunged on the outside, but it was the ‘sneaker’ Aramaayo who gained the judge’s verdict by a head on the inside. Sun Marshal just got the bob by a nose from Countofmontecristo while Minister wilted a touch inside the last 150m to take fourth place another half-length away, a head from stablemate Loyalty Man.

Firmed at $28, Aramaayo ran a moderate 1min 36.28secs for the mile on the Short Course, which was, given the pedestrian first-half of the race, unsurprisingly almost three seconds slower than his timing in the Kranji Mile.

Baertschiger was over the moon with his fourth Group 1 success, with the first coming with Aramco in last year’s Lion City Cup followed by I’m Incredible in last year’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup, incidentally the next feature in his crosshairs for Aramaayo.

The Group 1 race over 1800m on October 31 is the second Leg of the Singapore Triple Crown series with the third Leg, the Group 1 Singapore Gold Cup (2000m) due on November 21.

“I was very confident after his barrier trial last week. He dropped back and cruised to the line (for third to Sun Marshal),” said Baertschiger.

“They went slow today, he ran three seconds outside his Kranji Mile time, but he was still too good. He will now run in both the QEII Cup and the Gold Cup.

“The 2000m of the Gold Cup is not a problem for him. He’s run up to 2400m in Australia.”

Maia paid homage to Baertschiger for his clever tactical switch, which he said was the masterstroke to the successful result.

“Well done to Shane. He made a change of plans today, he told me that he was ridden back in Australia, and to do the same here,” said the in-form Brazilian jockey.

“In the 1800m race (Derby), he jumped well but overraced because the pace was too slow. If he had jumped too quick today, it would’ve been difficult to hold him.

“But he stayed quiet and I was able to drop him at the back. The plan was to be in the last three, but I was a bit afraid when they slowed down the pace.

“That’s why I started to come into the race from the 800m as it’s the Short Course, and I didn’t want to come in too late at the finish.

“In the straight, Sun Marshal rolled off and I had no room to go through. That’s why I tried the inside and he got there in time.

“I’m so happy I won my second Group 1 race in Singapore (after Kranji Mile).”

After saluting one race earlier aboard Muraahib (see previous report) Maia went on to make it a hat-trick of wins in the last three races on the 11-race programme, with Yulong Fast Steed ($24) taking out the Lucky Last, the $50,000 Better Than Ever Stakes, a Class 4 Division 2 race over 1100m.

With three-time Singapore champion jockey Vlad Duric – unplaced aboard a disappointing Top Knight in the Raffles Cup – scoring only one win aboard Fast And Fearless ($21) – the gap between him and Maia, his main challenger, has been cut back to seven winners (54 versus 47).

Maia was again not fussing over the title fight, even if the two-time Macau champion jockey would definitely grab the ultimate reward with both hands if it came his way.

“Like I said before, I don’t think about that. I respect Vlad a lot, he’s a very good jockey and more importantly, he’s a very good person,” said Maia.

“I just let things happen naturally. If the champion title comes, then it’ll be nice, but it’s not what keeps me going every day.”

With that third win from nine starts, Aramaayo has seen his prizemoney record bulge further to hit around the $900,000 mark for the Aramco Stable.