By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
Leading trainer Michael Clements has ended all speculations about whether or not Top Knight would be running in the $1 million Group 1 Singapore Gold Cup by confirming that his stable star will indeed face the starter in the time-honoured 2000m showpiece next Saturday.
While the Singapore Derby-Queen Elizabeth II Cup winner topped the nominations list of the third and final Leg of the Singapore Triple Crown series, taking pride of place as the highest-rated entry on 103 points, he could still opt out in favour of a shot at the Hong Kong International Races (HKIR) on December 13, the Group 1 Hong Kong Mile (1600m) in particular.
Clements and the Falcon Racing Stable had been keen on HKIR since the Singapore Derby win in September, going on to lodge the application form in due course. On Monday, the Hong Kong Jockey Club advised Clements that Top Knight was at this stage a reserve for the HK$20 million (S$3.5 million) Hong Kong Mile.
While a HKJC response was necessary to weigh up the options better, Clements, however, revealed that was not the trigger to definitely run the five-year-old son of Zoustar in the Singapore Gold Cup.
“We also entered Top Knight for the Hong Kong Cup (2000m), but at this point in time, he’s a reserve runner for the Hong Kong Mile,” said Clements who confirmed he has already secured regular partner Vlad Duric for both the Singapore Gold Cup and the Hong Kong Mile should he get the nod for the latter.
“I understand the Hong Kong Jockey Club is awaiting confirmation from horses rated ahead of him before finalising the list. At this stage we’re 50/50 to run, we won’t know until the list of runners is disseminated on November 25.
“But regardless, it was always the plan to run him in the Gold Cup. It’s a one-million-dollar race and he’s been going good on a wet track.
“It’ll be his first time over 2000m but there is no reason why he can’t get the trip. The Gold Cup has always been his main goal, if he gets in the Hong Kong Mile as well, it’s all well and good.”
Clements’ other Singapore Gold Cup nomination Siam Blue Vanda (90 points) will be on 53.5kgs if he runs, but the camp is unlikely to back him up less than one week (six days) after the $250,000 Group 2 EW Barker Trophy (1400m) this Sunday.
“Siam Blue Vanda is unlikely to run in the Gold Cup, even if that had been his target race for a long time,” said Clements.
“He had a short break after his last run (in the Group 1 Raffles Cup when 10th to Aramaayo), he missed the QEII (Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup).
“As he was freshened up, we feel he would be better over the shorter distance of the EW Barker.
“It’s a better race for him as he wasn’t going much good, he had been below par at his last couple of races. He comes in well weighted (51kgs) as well.”
The Pupetch Racing Stable-owned Echoes Of Heaven five-year-old’s form has indeed gone by the wayside since resuming from the Circuit Breaker three-month racing interruption between mid-April and mid-July.
That power-packed finish that thrusted him into the limelight in the Group 2 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) in March was nowhere to be seen in four subsequent runs, with the last three coming in the Group 1 Kranji Mile, Group 1 Singapore Derby (1800m) and Group 1 Raffles Cup (1600m).
Clements sounded upbeat the downward trend for the Thai-owned galloper could be bucked this Sunday.
“He has transformed, or should I say, he has improved in his trackwork,” said Clements who is on the cusp of a first Singapore champion trainer title after 23 seasons in Singapore since moving from his native Zimbabwe in 1998, perched atop the ladder on 49 winners, eight clear of reigning champion Mark Walker with only seven race meetings left in the 2020 season.
“He is brighter in himself and he looks better in his coat. All the pointers lead to a better run this week.”
Clements, who is pairing Siam Blue Vanda with his apprentice jockey Shafrizal Saleh for the first time, also runs two lightweights (50kgs) in Safeer (x Savabeel) and Quarter Back (x Empire Maker) in the EW Barker Trophy, a race that is still missing from his local CV.
“We’ve been looking at running Safeer in Cup races, but the way he is at the moment, so full of speed going into the Raffles Cup, we wanted to take a bit of speed out of him,” said Clements of the Al-Arabiya Stable-owned five-time winner.
“So, coming back to seven furlongs would be suitable. He has maintained his condition since the Raffles Cup.
“He’s a horse I’ve always rated. He’s a lot better off when he has cover in his races and he needs things to go his way.
“Benny (Woodworth) knows him well and there is no reason why he can’t go well.
“Quarter Back always tends to get into traffic problems, except for his second-last start when he won in style.
“He comes in well weighted. He’s doing well and could be the dark horse in the race.”
Clements has booked South African jockey Ryan Munger on the Japanese-bred six-time winner.