by Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
It was good old McGregor who has fittingly given trainer Michael Clements his first Singapore champion trainer title after the hardy campaigner sprang a pleasant $103 surprise in the $50,000 Best Tothelign 2015 Stakes, a Class 4 race over 2000m on Saturday.
After trading first place with defending champion Mark Walker for most of the 2020 season, the Zimbabwean-born conditioner has in the last three months or so, slowly but surely, pushed clear at the top, coming into this penultimate meeting with a cushy lead of 11 winners on Walker.
Mathematically, Clements could still be reeled in, but the calculators could be put away after McGregor rang up a double with So Hi Class having saluted earlier, taking him to 58 winners for a 13-win margin that was not assailable anymore.
With Walker having runners left in three of Saturday’s remaining races only, and should he field a full card (10 races) at the last 2020 meeting next Sunday, the best score the Kiwi can muster would be 13 for an almost never-heard of 100% strike rate in 13 races!
In the unlikely event Walker pulled off such an unfathomable feat, he would frustratingly still come up short on the back of his inferior number of seconds (59 versus 48), which would still hand Clements the title on his own.
The 55-year-old naturalised Singaporean was certainly aware of the much greater significance of McGregor’s win in that modest Class 4 race, a momentous occasion the former two-time Zimbabwe champion trainer had been waiting for since he landed from Africa in 1998.
“How apt that it’s the old boy who has sealed the premiership for me!” said Clements.
“I’m 13 winners in front now. Mark can’t catch me anymore.
“Obviously, we all dream of that one day, but it’s only in the last five years that I’ve had a good flux of winners, and a bunch of much classier horses as well.
“I’d like to thank a good strong team behind that success, both staff and owners. I couldn’t have done it without great staff who work tirelessly behind the scenes.
“And I’m also lucky to have a good group of owners who have brought in a great spread of horses in the last four to five years. The Falcon Stable (2019 champion owner) is one of them, but the others have all contributed to our success in some way or another.
“Thanks to that solid support, the stable has progressed from strength to strength, and today we get the reward for all the hard work.”
On his unlikely title provider, Clements had nothing but words of praise for the Magic Albert old timer who was registering his ninth win from 63 starts in seven seasons for Kiwi couple Graham Mackie and Trish Dunell.
“As a 10-year-old, McGregor is still a very bright horse. He’s still full of himself and loves his work every day,” said Clements who actually saddled two other more fancied runners in third-placed Shepherd’s Hymn (favourite) and Voluminous (13th) in the race.
“He’s come down at the weights, he had a good barrier (1) and even though it’s his first win at the distance, he’s been looking for more ground.
“There was also some give in the track. So things have really worked out great for him today.”
Tracking up race-leader Caribbean Lady (Mohd Zaki) from the outset, McGregor suddenly burst onto the scene as a leading chance when Hideyuki Takaoka’s mare hoisted the white flag upon straightening.
The swoopers were descending thick and fast, but McGregor knuckled down to the task – as if knowing what was at stake for his yard – to prevail by one length from the Stephen Gray-trained Molineux (A’Isisuhairi Kasim) just denying Shepherd’s Hymn (Benny Woodworth) of a Clements quinella by a neck. The winning time was 2min 1.8secs for the 2000m on the Short Course.
To have someone who has been groomed by Clements in the last five years to chip in for the big result made the crowning moment even sweeter.
“I just followed the leader from the start and at the 800m, I could feel I still had a lapful,” said Shafrizal who moved to Clements from Penang in 2016.
“I couldn’t hold him back anymore. He was one-paced to the line but he’s a brave old horse.
“Well done to the boss for the champion trainer title!”
McGregor has rounded out prizemoney in excess of $460,000 for Mackie and Dunell with that latest success, which would without a doubt be the most memorable of his nine wins