By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
Kranji Mile contender Rocket Star delighted trainer Ricardo Le Grange on Tuesday morning with the way he emerged the winner in a star-studded barrier trial that could have passed off as a prelude to the upcoming $1 million race.
Barring Yulong Edition (who ran last), all the other eight triallers, which featured some of the main market players, are entered in the Group 1 mile race on May 22.
A versatile sort who can race handy or off the pace, like at his flying second from last to Lim’s Lightning (who was also in that trial) in the Group 1 Lion City Cup (1200m) on April 24, Rocket Star (Wong Chin Chuen) was one of the best away before being eased off leader Sun Marshal to track up three wide without cover in the first four.
When the talented chestnut raced by Filipino owner Paolo Mendoza was given full bore in the straight, he scooted off towards a 1 ¼-length win from Mr Malek (Simon Kok Wei Hoong).
The remaining run-on reads as follows: Minister (third), Sun Marshal (fourth), Big Hearted (fifth), Grand Koonta (sixth), Lim’s Lightning (seventh) and Top Knight (eighth).
A four-time winner over both turf and Polytrack over distances varying from 1100m to 1400m, Rocket Star ran the 1000m in 59.78secs.
Granted, a 1000m hitout on Polytrack is not quite the same as a 1600m race on turf, but it still remained a useful guide 12 days out, more so for Le Grange, who had been keen to give his charge a real workout on Tuesday.
“I’m very happy with that. It was a nice trial,” said Le Grange.
“I normally trial my horses on Thursday, but as this Thursday is a public holiday (Hari Raya Puasa), I trialled Rocket Star today.
“With the extra two days, I really wanted to give him a good hitout today. He is in a nice condition and has come out of his last race really well.”
Following his ride on Rocket Star in the Lion City Cup, Wong was without surprise booked again on the Star Witness four-year-old for the Kranji Mile assignment.
Interestingly, the former two-time Singapore champion apprentice jockey has never ridden in the Kranji Mile, let alone picking up a ride who may well salute.
“This is my first ride in the Kranji Mile, and this is the best chance in my career to win a Group 1 race,” said the Penang-born jockey whose highest accolades are two Group 3 silverware – the 2017 Committee’s Prize (1600m) on Twickenham and the 2018 JBBA Rocket Man Sprint (1200m) on Aramco.
“This morning, he was sharp out of the gates. I was actually shocked he came out so fast and he was enjoying the tempo, I just let him stride.
“He was behind the leader and when I gave him a squeeze, he opened up nicely to the line.
“The rise in distance (from 1200m to 1600m) is not a problem. It all depends when I start the button, whether it’s in the Lion City Cup or the Kranji Mile.
“I’ve tried to understand the horse better, and have chatted with Ricardo, who has done a good job with this horse, who has kept improving. He’s picked up all the time.”
Besides Rocket Star, Le Grange will be running Pennywise, and possibly, Churchill and Senor Don, two nominations sitting on the fringe and who might not make the final cut.
The South African handler has booked Kok on Pennywise, an eye-catching second to Sacred Croix, another Kranji Mile hopeful, in a Class 1 race over the mile on April 24, and Juan Paul van der Merwe on Churchill. Senor Don is without a rider at this stage.
“I could have four runners but at this stage, Rocket Star and Pennywise are the only two I am sure will run,” said Le Grange.
“In any case, they are all in good shape.”