Leading Stewards’ Cup contender Mr Malek spearheads Burridge revival

Mr Malek trialled a treat on Thursday as he gears up for his racing comeback. Photo: STC

By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club

Mr Malek arrived at the stable under a bit of an injury cloud, but the talented galloper has since turned the corner, and could well be the one horse to thrust trainer Steven Burridge’s name back up in lights – and even towards clearer skies.

Thanks to a good dose of patience, former Kranji trainer Lee Freedman’s arguably best horse from the team he dispersed when he left in March, has not only lived up to his top billing, but could earn Burridge a Group success which had eluded the popular Australian trainer since Lim’s Lightning in the Group 2 Aushorse Golden Horseshoe in 2018.

“I haven’t had a decent horse like Mr Malek for a while. Hopefully, he can go all the way,” said Burridge four days ahead of the Swiss Ace four-year-old’s raid in the $150,000 Group 2 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) this Saturday.

By ‘going all the way’, Burridge was referring to the even bigger fish to fry in three weeks’ time, the Group 1 Singapore Derby (1800m) on July 25, even if both the Stewards’ Cup and Singapore Derby do not make up the last two Legs of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge this year, following the scrapping of the first Leg, the Group 3 Silver Bowl (1400m).

Burridge, who has never claimed any 4YO Challenge race in his 17 years at Kranji, would love nothing more than break his hoodoo with Mr Malek, but was still wary of the Derby distance.

“The horse is nice and good, he’s good as gold. The vets and the farriers have done a very good job with him, especially Dr Peter Briggs and Andrew the farrier,” he said.

“He was lame when he arrived, I think he stood on a nail, but he hasn’t got the best of feet at the best of times. Touch wood, this problem is behind him now.

“Hopefully, he can run a good race this Saturday. There is still a question mark about the Derby as he’s by Swiss Ace, but he’s such a relaxed type that we think he can take that on.”

On his second start for Burridge when he squeezed his way out of a tight pocket to score going away in a Class 2 race over 1400m on June 5, there is enough evidence to suggest the 1800m won’t be a bridge too far.

“He’s won once over 1600m and he will definitely run out a strong mile this Saturday,” said Burridge.

“You would think the 1800m should be okay from the way he finished off, but we’ll see. I’m happy with the preparation he’s had, anyway, all’s going well.

“He won a nice race at his last start, especially as he gave weight all round that day, and he’s now back to weight-for-age.

“He’s come through that run very well, and I was very happy with a trial he won last week (Thursday), he’s come through that very well, too.

“Harry (last-start winning partner A’Isisuhairi Kasim) galloped him over 1200m this morning and he breezed up nicely.

“It’s a very competitive race with very good horses like Rocket Star and Kharisma, and also, Big Hearted who is proven over the Derby trip.

“It’s also a small field with only 10 runners, and we’ve often seen they can be quite tricky races.”

Burridge can only hope for a true run race where the cream will rise to the top, a scenario which he is not all that unfamiliar with if one digs up the racing archives a fair way back.

In his heyday, Burridge used to put the bridle on smart sorts like King And King, Risky Business and Captain Obvious.

At his introductory year as a Kranji trainer in 2005, King And King won the Group 2 Queen Elizabeth II Cup, with Her Majesty on hand to present him her eponymous trophy, and at his premiership-winning 2010 season, Risky Business won the Group 1 Longines Singapore Gold Cup. The grey flash Captain Obvious even won for him in Dubai in 2012.

Even without big marquee names in the latter years, the former jockey has kept churning out his fair share of winners for stalwart owners like Lim’s Stable, Dr Tan Kai Chah, the Premier Racing, Eclipse Stable, Big Valley Stable. Handy sorts like Lim’s Racer, Wild Geese (2014 Queen Elizabeth II Cup winner) and Jay Eff Express, to name a few, spring to mind.

As a result, the amiable horseman has always finished in the Top 10 of the Kranji training ranks since his breakout 2010 season.

Tellingly, except for 2014, it was even as high as a Top 5 finish from 2011 to 2016, a clear trend that in the last five years, it was more like treading water. The fiercer competition at the top, coupled with a scaled down ownership base in the last couple of years account for the tougher times.

Most of the owners mentioned earlier have either cut back, moved to other trainers or just called it quits, with Burridge currently left with 26 horses on his books.

Maybe it is just coincidence, but the arrival of Mr Malek – who is the first horse sent to Burridge by Oscar Racing Stable and is also the last of the Mohicans of the former Singapore champion owner – may well be a harbinger of better fortunes for Burridge.

From a lowly bottom-tier position on only four winners up until April, Burridge has, in the space of the last five weeks, gone by leaps and bounds to ninth spot more in keeping with his usual standards, with a haul of seven winners, including a double from longshots Split Second and Absolvido on Sunday.

“We’ve had a bit of a quiet run, but things have picked up a bit in the last few weeks or so,” said Burridge.

“We’ve had a few doubles, and on Sunday, we got another nice double with (his apprentice jockey) Simon (Kok Wei Hoong).

“I don’t know why Split Second started at that price ($244). At his last start, he was average, he was slow in the race and got back a bit too far.

“But this time, he was a little closer and it helped when Luck Of Master injected a bit more pace into the race. He’s no champion, but he can stay and can also handle a bit of give.

“He’s an improving horse who’s had 10 starts for three wins, and he could measure up as a Derby horse next year.

“As for Absolvido ($64), he got back and got a fine run. He’s a rising eight-year-old and is still doing well.”

Author: iRace