By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club
Standby starter Prodigal on Saturday landed a big win along with a backstory that was full of quirks, not just for himself but also for his interestingly-named group of owners.
Trainer Michael Clements had for one all along described the New Zealand-bred three-year-old by Proisir as “physically well developed, but mentally behind”.
That waywardness was well put in a nutshell at his debut in a Restricted Maiden race over six furlongs on May 9, when well backed, but straightaway gave his backers few reasons to cheer with an erratic run on a wide path throughout.
Clements must have thought they would have to go back to the drawing board when an equally hot-headed Prodigal didn’t give any suggestion he had mended his ways while parading as a promoted starter (with the scratching of Classic Thirtysix) to Saturday’s $75,000 Restricted Maiden race over 1400m.
Punters had, however, not totally deserted him as his $51 odds would suggest, but they were about to doubt the wisdom of that unflinching support.
The race got underway without any hiccup with Shafrizal Saleh able to slot the chestnut gelding into the box-seat behind race-leader Ibex (Mohd Zaki), but the Malaysian rider was soon in for a torrid time restraining his overracing mount, who was seen clambering on heels as the leaders stacked up the speed.
Turning for home, things got even hairier as he got trapped behind the weakening Ibex, but Shafrizal, knowing he had a coil spring ready to release all his pent-up energy underneath him, went for desperate measures.
Going for a sharp turn towards daylight on the outside, they bumped into stablemate Starfortune (Juan Paul van der Merwe) in the process, but once the gangly gelding was in the clear, he went through his gears like the good horse his connections were always confident he was.
Golden Sprint (Yusoff Fadzli) looked home and hosed as he stormed in on the outside, but Prodigal sprouted wings to dash past him for a half-length win. Favourite Ace Sovereign (Vlad Duric) was in the mix inside the last two furlongs but had to settle for third another 1 ¼ lengths away.
Prodigal ran the 1400m on the Short Course in 1min 23.75secs.
“We’ve always rated him. He started as favourite first-up, but he was mentally not there yet, even if he’s got ability,” said Clements.
“He’s physically well developed but he’s mentally behind. Today, he was still not good in the parade ring and on the way out, but he was more settled around horses in the running.
“He also met with some traffic jam in the straight. He’s an awkward horse to ride and his saddle slipped, too, but Shafrizal knows him very well.
“Under strong riding, he got up in the concluding stages. He’s definitely a horse with a future.”
That would be music to the ears of his new owners, who go by the offbeat name of The Functioning Degenerates, a bunch of Australians headed by cousins Jake and Robbie Smith, and Yola Humphrey from Melbourne.
“They’re a group of guys in Australia. They are old friends with my B trainer Michael White,” said Clements.
“They’ve supported the stable with this one, whom I bought at the breeze-ups in New Zealand. They’ve got a few more young ones coming through, a couple in pre-training in Australia and one in Argentina.
“I guess they picked a name that does reflect what they think of themselves. In any case, it doesn’t matter what name you choose in horse racing!”
Sahabat (x Foxwedge) and Al Meqdam (x Exceed And Excel) would probably require another Google search to understand the origin of their foreign-sounding monikers, but regardless of the story or significance behind, it’s the ability in the legs that their careers boil down to as Clements alluded to, and those two certainly don’t have it in short supply as could be seen from their respective wins to bring up a training treble for Clements.
Contrary to Prodigal, both Sahabat ($13) and Al Meqdam ($18) enjoyed much cleaner air in their all-the-way wins in the $30,000 Class 5 Division 1 race over 1100m and $20,000 Open Maiden race over 1400m respectively. Both Clements gallopers were ridden by four-time Singapore champion jockey Vlad Duric, who went on to claim a hat-trick of his own aboard pick-up ride Gold Kingdom ($18) for trainer Tan Kah Soon in the $30,000 Class 5 race over 1600m.
With the big haul, Clements reclaims the lead and some breathing space (three winners) from Mark Walker with whom the Singapore champion trainer was tied on 32 winners before the start of Saturday proceedings.
One winner who gave the Zimbabwean-born conditioner a similar kick to Prodigal’s – minus the innuendos about mental conditions, tongue-in-cheek or otherwise – had to be Sahabat.
“Similar to Prodigal, we rated Sahabat. He was well-backed first-up but mentally, he was not ready yet,” he said.
“He won his trials, he looked good in the paddock but he was showing nothing in his races. He was doing it back to front, he was doing too much too early, he compounded and showed no finish.
“We’ve taught him to settle down in his trials. Today, I told Vlad to relax him in the first half and he should finish off.
“We felt he was going to go much better today.”