By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
A win from Hugo in Saturday’s $70,000 Class 3 Division 1 race over 1200m on Polytrack could set the stage for a shot at a much loftier target next week.
Trainer Stephen Gray would of course prefer a win to warrant backing up the home-bred five-year-old by Smart Missile in the Group 2 EW Barker Trophy (1400m) on turf on Sunday week, but a good run will also count as a qualifier.
After all, that is a handicap feature which has twice been a good excuse for double celebrations in the Gray barn.
With the race always held close to Gray’s birthday on November 9, the Kiwi handler’s two wins with Born To Fly in 2014 and Lim’s Cruiser in 2016 certainly paved the way to even bigger parties later on, with the first hurrah actually coinciding with his big day itself when he turned 50.
While Hugo, who is out of the Gray’s former mare Princess Katie, herself out of another Kranji mare of theirs, Go Getter, is more of a Polytrack horse given all his five wins from 1000m to 1200m were registered on that surface, Gray has always been keen to get one of the stable favourites back on grass.
The EW Barker Trophy on November 15 is the ideal opportunity never mind if it’s a belated birthday present.
“We’ll have a crack at the EW Barker if he runs well this Saturday. I’ve always wondered about putting him back on grass,” said Gray.
“It’s a race that has been good to us. He’ll get in at a low weight if he gets a run.
“He seems good, he tries hard. It’s a strong race this week, and he’ll be up in weight, though, and that’s why I booked Simon (Kok Wei Hoong).
“It’s hard to get a rider these days, and we were lucky we got Simon. He picked up five points after the win, and the two-kilo claim will be a bit of help.
“Matty (Kellady) picked up the ride last start and rode him well, but I wanted a claimer just to take the weight off as he’s not an overly big horse.”
Kellady stepped up to the plate when Vlad Duric was stood down at the Kranji meeting on October 3, navigating Hugo home despite being caught wide without cover for most of the Class 3 race over 1000m.
“It does look like he enjoys having plenty of room out wide. He worked home very strongly,” said Gray.
In the Division 2 of the other Class 3 race over 1200m, Gray saddles two runners, Darc Bounty and No Fun No Gain, but the level of confidence is noticeably a few notches below.
“Darc Bounty loves the 1000m (four of his six wins), but it’s hard to find a Class 3 race over that trip for him,” he said.
“But there was no other choice, and the 1200m should be good enough for him. He’ll run on.
“As for No Fun No Gain, to be fair, he was given terrible rides at his first two runs back but he’s still struggling to find form.
“If he drops to Class 4, he’ll probably be hard to beat.”
Gray has booked his apprentice jockey Winston Cheah Wei Wen on Darc Bounty while he has yet to engage a rider for No Fun No Gain.
Darc Bounty carries the top impost of 59kgs that will be shaved off by the three-kilo allowance of Cheah. The Malaysian rider came to Singapore with a record of 13 wins all-up across the border when indentured to Richard Lines, but has yet to open his Kranji account in 40 rides with three seconds as his best performances.