By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
Hong Kong-bound jockey Ruan Maia was all smiles after he had been able to fall back on a late pick-up ride in order not to walk away on a losing note at his farewell Kranji meeting on Saturday.
The Brazilian jockey was riding at his final Singapore meeting after stunning news came totally from left field on Thursday he had been lured by the Hong Kong Jockey Club to continue his career in the coveted Asian jurisdiction.
Given he serves a two-week careless riding suspension from next week and he also has to spend three weeks in quarantine when he reaches Hong Kong, he had to unfortunately cut short his Kranji stint as early as Saturday so he can commence his new licence on March 1 as agreed.
Having impressed all and sundry at Kranji with his close second to champion Vlad Duric last season, and having already ridden seven winners to sit on top of the log in the new season, Maia didn’t really need a fairytale ending to prove his worth.
Nevertheless, at least one winner at his ‘adios’ day would have come as the perfect send-off, and also a nice way of saying goodbye to the legion of fans he had made in his inaugural season (2020) at Kranji.
As it turned out, Maia may want to go and give his colleague Louis-Philippe Beuzelin a big hug, or it would have been a bit of an anticlimax to his fantastic journey at Kranji.
After the French jockey was stood down for gastric pain, Maia was gifted the plum ride on Grand Koonta in the main race of the day, the $100,000 Kranji Stakes A race over 1200m (he also took Imperium in the last race, but he ran fourth).
With none of his original seven rides saluting earlier, Takhi’s second to Fireworks in the first race coming the closest, Maia knew the Irish-bred grey six-year-old by Dark Angel was a special manna from heaven that he just couldn’t afford to waste – and he didn’t.
“This is just so great and I’m really lucky I got that ride on Grand Koonta as he’s such a good horse and it’s even better it was a Kranji Stakes A race,” said Maia.
“Thanks so much to James Peters for that ride, and to everybody who have supported me during my stay in Singapore. I believe I’ve done a good job.
“Now it’s time for a new challenge in Hong Kong, but I like I said before, this is only goodbye. I would like to come back to Singapore to ride again as I really love the place.”
Should that happen, James Peters would be among many trainers to welcome the Brazilian hoop back with wide-open arms.
Last year, they combined quite often for three wins, Yulong Fast Steed twice and Meryl, and that latest pearler from Maia on Grand Koonta had Peters convinced the former two-time Macau champion jockey has the Midas touch as the grey was resuming after wrapping up his 2020 campaign with a dismal run.
After flopping in the heavy track of the Group 2 EW Barker Trophy (1400m) last November, Grand Koonta has since been freshened up by Peters, and was not an unrealistic chance at atoning first-up, even if the sticky barrier in 10 was a query.
Punters were obviously prepared to ignore that when they sent the five-time winner out as a firm $28 faovurite. They were certainly repaid for their faith, thanks in no small measure to yet another inspiring ride from Maia.
Displaying a brand of magic his more famous Hong Kong-based compatriot Joao ‘Magic Man’ Moreira could easily claim as his own, Maia bounced Grand Koonta out quick enough to slot into the box-seat behind race-leader Surpass Natural (Zyrul Nor Azman) and on the inside of the other well-backed Fame Star (Iskandar Rosman).
That was half the battle won for Maia, as his next task was to just turn off the engine into idle mode while hugging the rails, and wait for the home straight to reignite it.
As last-start winner Surpass Natural sent signals of distress upon straightening, Fame Star took over and held the fort with aplomb, but the Group 2 winner was no match for Grand Koonta when Maia cut the ribbons.
In his trademark leaping bounds, the China Horse Club’s banner horse skipped away impressively. Churchill (Juan Paul van der Merwe) pulled some ground off late, but Grand Koonta was able to thwart that threat rather easily to score by one length. Fame Star settled for a creditable third another length away.
The winner recorded 1min 9.21secs for the 1200m on the Long Course to bring up his sixth Kranji win from 12 starts for stakes earnings fast closing on the $400,000 mark for the China Horse Club.
“The main thing today was to get into a good spot in the first 100m, and Maia did that very well,” said Peters.
“His last trial (on January 14) was a little disappointing, but to be fair, he’s not a Polytrack horse. He ran last, it’s never ideal going into a Kranji Stakes A race.
“But he pulled up okay and I also decided to pull the earmuffs off today. They are meant to stop him from overracing and going flat out, but they’ve gone the opposite way; I thought they relaxed him too much.
“He also didn’t like the wet. Today the track wasn’t too bad (it bucketed down in the next race, though) and he won a nice race.”