By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
Trainer Cliff Brown has called Top Knight as the horse to beat in Saturday’s $1 million Group 1 Singapore Gold Cup (2000m), but that doesn’t mean he has ruled out any of his three runners from stealing the race.
The Australian handler, who claimed the third and most prestigious Leg of the Singapore Triple Crown series with Gilt Complex in 2017 when it was for the last time run over 2200m, saddles a trio of five-year-olds in this year’s renewal of the time-honoured classic: Last year’s runner-up Gold Strike (Irish-bred by Iffraaj), Argentinian import Trumpy (x Lizard Island) and enigmatic entire Elite Incredible (also an Argentine, and by Valid Stripes).
It would be a stretch to suggest any one of them head into the race with the same gilt-edged chance as Gilt Complex (second favourite at $33) did, or as this year’s two favourites, second Leg winner (Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup over 1800m) Top Knight and first Leg winner (Group 1 Raffles Cup over 1600m) Aramaayo, but one can always count on the glorious uncertainty of racing to throw the formbook out the window.
“If Top Knight is at his best, he’ll beat them all,” he said in his usual matter-of-fact style.
“He carries only 57kgs, and there is not that wide a spread in the weights in the Gold Cup anymore. It’s not like last time when the topweight gave a lot of weight all around.
“Aramaayo is also a good horse. Those two will be hard to beat, but I’m happy enough with my horses. They are fit and well.”
Brown typically won’t split his threesome, even if on form, five-time winner Gold Strike (1200m to 1800m) has the edge on Trumpy, a six-time winner in Argentina but who has yet to get off the mark, let alone place in five starts at Kranji, and Elite Incredible who has flattered to deceive with only one win in 16 starts after showing so much promise early doors.
Brown just said he was happy with the progress they’ve shown in the build-up, even if it has not been the most orthodox of preps in this peculiar 2020 season of fits and starts brought about by the global pandemic.
If there was to be one good omen, though, all three drew in (two, four and six) with Gold Strike getting the plum gate in two – just like Gilt Complex.
“They’re all in good order, and for once, I had luck at the barriers. They have all drawn well,” he said.
“I’m very pleased with Gold Strike. He’s got a good chance, but again, the weights don’t help as they used to do.
“Last year he carried 50.5kgs when he ran second (to Mr Clint), but this year he carries 3kgs more, it’s not quite the same.
“And let’s not forget he didn’t have the same number of lead-up races as last year partly because of COVID-19, but he’s nice and bright. He’s done everything right and let’s hope it doesn’t bucket down on that day as he’s not as effective on a wet track.
“Trumpy was bought for the Gold Cup and he ran really well at his last race (sixth to Top Knight in the second Leg, the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup over 1800m). He’s won over 1400m, 1600m (twice), 1800m (twice), 2000m and 2500m in Argentina (as Es Sicario), so he definitely ticks the 2000m box.
“As for Elite Incredible, things didn’t work out at his last start. He was under pressure the whole way and he didn’t like the wet track.
“On his day, he can run a good race, and he’s drawn nicely in four. He’s a bit hit and miss, though, but at least, I got Joseph See back on him. The horse seems to run for him.”
The Singaporean lightweight jockey came tantalisingly close to his moment in the sun back in September when as the first-time partner of Elite Incredible, he was all but home in the Group 1 Singapore Derby (1800m) until Top Knight flew in late to deny him of a dream first Group win. Elite Incredible has since had two more starts with other jockeys, but he went ordinary.
In a COVID-19-plagued season when expatriate jockeys have been thin on the ground and with the border closures that restrict the hiring of lightweight jockeys from overseas (usually a tradition for Singapore Gold Cups), Brown has also gone local for the other two, sticking with their last-start partners, former Singapore champion apprentice jockey Wong Chin Chuen on Gold Strike and apprentice jockey Shafrizal Saleh on Trumpy.