Duric eyes Grand record of fourth Lion City Cup

Vlad Duric

By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club

It would be fair to say Vlad Duric knows how to win a Lion City Cup.

He’s won three, tying him with two turf legends – one globally, the great Lester Piggott (Blue Star in 1976, 1977 and Gentle Jim in 1978), and the other one locally, former eight-time Singapore champion jockey Saimee Jumaat (Fischer in 1997, 1999 and Ninetyfive Emperor in 2005) – as the joint record holders of the 47-year-old sprint classic.

This Saturday, Duric gets a big chance to sit on top on his own.

Vlad Duric is airborne as he dismounts from Grand Koonta after last Tuesday’s barrier trial.

Hungry for more, the Australian jockey even went “searching” for the right horse for the job, the James Peters-trained Grand Koonta, which goes to show how keen he is on a fourth roar in Singapore’s premier sprint.

When Duric won his third aboard Inferno – the others are Zac Spirt (2016) and Aramco (2019) – at a postponed renewal of the Group 1 1200m event last October, so impressive was the Holy Roman Emperor four-year-old that he could have realistic designs on at least another Lion City Cup with Cliff Brown’s rising star.

But both Inferno and Brown stunningly pulled up stumps this year to continue their respective careers in Australia, leaving Duric high and dry, but not for long.

The four-time Singapore champion jockey was quick to snap up an apt replacement.

“I’ve been booked to ride Grand Koonta for quite a while now,” said Duric who has never race-ridden the six-time winner (all over 1200m on turf) before.

“After Inferno left, I was searching for a sprinter. James did tell me some time ago about the possibility of me riding Grand Koonta, and I jumped at the opportunity.

“As there aren’t a lot of sprinters around, I was glad I picked up a horse as good as Grand Koonta, and that was even before the programme came out for the year.

“He will be the fresh horse on the scene, and will need a bit of luck. I’m really happy with how he’s gone so far.”

Duric and the grey combined in a barrier trial last Tuesday. They came with a searching run on the outside before plugging away in fifth place, less than two lengths off the winner Nowyousee, one of their 13 Lion City Cup rivals.

“He’s not a very good trial horse as he’s better on the grass, but his trackwork yesterday was very good (last 600m in 38.6secs),” said Duric.

“I trialled him once earlier this year, and I was supposed to ride him at his first-up race (since his dismal last place in the Group 2 EW Barker Trophy over 1400m on a heavy track on November 15), but I was out because of a throat infection.”

As it turned out, the Irish-bred Dark Angel six-year-old brilliantly won a Kranji Stakes A race over 1200m with Ruan Maia the third cab off the rank to gain the lucky pick-up ride on January 23. Louis-Philippe Beuzelin was booked after Duric called in sick, but the French jockey himself was stood down for gastric pain.

If that emphatic win from Grand Koonta smarted, it was to Duric just the tip of the iceberg to a “frustrating” 2021 season that had gone in fits and starts thus far.

Besides the throat woes (which sidelined him for around three weeks, but is now resolved), the heavyweight jockey was also beset by the usual work interruptions – stood down for dehydration and careless riding suspensions, the latest being a two-day ban that sees him return this Saturday, just in time for the Lion City Cup.

“It’s been an extremely frustrating year for me,” he said.

“I had already missed most of January through suspensions and the throat issue, and just when I thought the worse was behind me, I was sidelined by another suspension.

“Worse still, it came on a horse (Vulcan) who just missed (a neck-second to Entertainer) giving me my 600th win in Singapore. I’ve been stuck at 599 since.

“It’s been very frustrating to stay at home when I was extremely fit and ready to go in the last three weeks.

“My energy levels were very good as I rode in all the 12 races at my last meeting (April 4). Luckily, I’ve been able to keep myself to the mark.

“Hopefully, I can get some consistency going, get my momentum back. It’s great to be back in time at the Lion City Cup day.

“Who knows, Grand Koonta may give me my 600th win milestone, even if I’d rather get that out of the way in an earlier race.

“More importantly, it’d be very special if I win that race for James as we’ve been good friends for a long time.”

Unlike Duric, the English handler has not yet entered the Lion City Cup roll of honour, though he did have a hand in Super Easy’s 2013 success when then assistant-trainer to Michael Freedman.

So far, Peters’ Group 2 win in the Stewards’ Cup with Titanium in 2016 is his highest acclaim. He also captured two Group 3 races, the 2016 Saas Fee Stakes with Spanish Bay and the 2017 Juvenile Championship with Mr Hanks.

“It would be nice to win those big Group 1 races. That’s what we trainers dream of,” said Peters, who besides Grand Koonta and the other China Horse Club stalwart Skywalk, is rarely present in Group 1 events.

“After Grand Koonta ran sixth in the last Lion City Cup in October, we didn’t really know when the next Lion City Cup would be run (with fixtures and feature race line-ups modified because of COVID-19).

“It was perfect timing when the dates came out, and the Lion City Cup was the first feature race to be run on April 24. Imagine if I had to wait until October!

“It’s never been easy to find races for him. At his last win, he had a good run against some of the opposition he will face on Saturday, it worked out well from the gate (10) he got, but I couldn’t find a race for him after that.

“I was actually looking at a race three weeks before the Lion City Cup, but he would have carried 59kgs, so we deliberately skipped that.

“We gave him a freshen-up instead, and it’s worked out good as he’s a horse that goes well fresh, anyway.

“He’s in good form. I’m not worried about his trial last week as he’s never been a flashy trialler; he doesn’t like the Polytrack.

“He actually finished last at his previous trial, so to run fifth in that trial last week, against some of the horses he will run against (Nowyousee, Muraahib, Rocket Star, Fame Star) was about as good as you’d get.

“He’s also drawn well in three. Anything inside of five would have been great, so three is very good.”

Author: iRace