By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
After being widely tipped, even by his 2020 conqueror Vlad Duric, as the jockey who would make this 2021 season his own, Ruan Maia has certainly taken the step in the right direction with an early hat-trick of wins at Singapore’s opening day on Sunday.
The Brazilian flew off the blocks in the first race ($30,000 Welcome 2021 Stakes, a Class 5 Division 1 race over the Polytrack mile) with Per Incrown ($20), before doubling the dose with Super Invincible in Race 7 and completing the big haul with Surpass Natural in the highlight of the day, the $100,000 Happy New Year Stakes, a Kranji Stakes A race over the Polytrack 1200m which was substituting the traditional kickoff feature, the Group 3 New Year Cup.
As humble as ever, Maia would not read too much into the flying start, more so when arch-rival Duric was out of action at the inaugural race meeting and at the next meeting on January 9, currently serving a two-day careless riding suspension.
“It’s a great start, but this is only the first meeting. There is still a long way to go,” said the two-time Macau champion jockey who narrowly missed out on the Singapore title by only three winners to Duric at his very first full season last year.
“Well done to Jerome (Tan, winning trainer of two of his treble, Per Incrown and Surpass Natural), too as he’s also the leader today!”
Tan just laughed off the compliment as he knows the cream would eventually rise to the top, but the Singaporean handler, who helms a medium-size yard with just under 30 horses, was glad he has made an auspicious start to the new year, especially with two horses who just landed at his stables.
“Both Per Incrown and Surpass Natural came to my stables around one month ago, and credit must go to their previous trainer, Leticia Drgaon,” said Tan, who has also received Group winner (Jumbo Jet Trophy) Exceed Natural, Strong N Powerful and Sky Eye (also victorious at his first outing under his care) from the same connections.
“She has kept both horses to the mark and has done most of the hard work. They were well and fit, and I’m just lucky to get the results.
“Surpass Natural is a good Polytrack horse and that was the race I had targeted for him. He’s been trialling very well.
“I’m not sure what’s next for him. We have less racing now and we can’t really plan ahead, we’ll just see what happens.”
Travelling in fourth position not far off leader Excelling (John Powell), Surpass Natural loomed as a major threat upon straightening without having spent a penny, no doubt helped in a big way by the passage left wide open when Altair (Jerlyn Seow Poh Hui) rolled out and carried Webster (Joseph See) off the track at the point of the turn.
One could easily picture Maia chuckling to himself at the inviting saloon passage, and knowing his above-average strike rate on Polytrack, the rest became child’s play. The Elvstroem five-year-old slid his way to the front, holding sway all the way to the line for a most authoritative performance as the $13 favourite.
Pennywise (Juan Paul van der Merwe) atoned from his last-start flop in the Group 3 Colonial Chief Stakes (1600m) a fortnight ago with a searching run back on the fence inside the last 300m but could only come within half-a-length of the winner.
Sacred Rebel (Hakim Kamaruddin) also powered home late to finish third another head away, but did lug in close home, slightly checking the fast-finishing last-start winner You Rokk (A’Isisuhairi Kasim) who ran fifth, a head away from last year’s New Year Cup winner Nowyousee (Wong Chin Chuen).
The winning time was a smart 1min 9.89secs for the 1200m on the Polytrack, only 0.15 second slower than the record established by the great Rocket Man in the Group 3 Woodlands Handicap 10 years ago.
With that seventh win from 13 starts, Surpass Natural has now amassed in excess of $300,000 in stakes money for the Sky Eye Stable
“He’s a very good horse. I think a horse (Pennywise) nearly passed him at one stage, but he fought back,” said Maia.
After claiming the riding honours hands down, Maia sits on top on three winners with Frenchman Louis-Philippe Beuzelin close behind in second place on two winners – Mortal Engine (see earlier report) and Zoffspeed ($29) for Ricardo Le Grange in the $30,000 Falcon Racing Stable Stakes, a Class 5 Division 2 race over the Polytrack mile.