On a day when racegoers were back to the races to cheer the crowd favourites home, it was the underdogs who had a field day, with jockey Ronnie Stewart one of yesterday’s unlikely heroes.
The day began well enough for top fancies in the first half of the 11-race programme, but it all went downhill from Race 7 onwards when $166 roughie Axel scored.
Payout-wise, the Donna Logan-trained galloper produced the biggest boilover, but the real shock factor came in the day’s highlight in the penultimate event, the $100,000 Class 1 race over 1,400m, when unbeaten rising star Lim’s Kosciuszko was rolled.
The Daniel Meagher-trained boom four-year-old was on everybody’s lips, and probably backed by most of the 3,000-odd patrons who flocked to the Kranji grandstand after two years of deprivation.
Had he faltered, all eyes would have been on his superstar stablemate, the reigning Singapore Horse of the Year Lim’s Lightning, to take over, even if he was resuming over a distance not made to suit.
But it was the unheralded Gold Star who, well ridden by Stewart, defied both his $92 odds and a gallant Lim’s Kosciuszko (Wong Chin Chuen) to come up trumps.
The saying “when it rains, it pours” certainly resonated with Stewart. The Australian jockey had not been able to find the line in 39 previous rides in six meetings at his Singapore comeback, but Charger finally got the ball rolling in the first race before Gold Star and Silent Is Gold ($50), both outsiders, gave the battling rider a most unexpected windfall in the last two.
For a jockey who has won three Singapore Gold Cups with El Dorado and was a lightweight staple at Kranji in the mid to late 2000s, that return after 11 years had been a bit of a shock to the system.
But the treble could not have come at a better time to dispel any moments of self-doubt.
“It was nice to finally ride something competitive,” he said in a barely veiled allusion to the quality of his previous bookings.
“It’s been a relatively testing time, to bring my family up here and things have not unfolded the way we planned. The early performances were not what I expected, it was challenging.
“My fitness levels were also not up to the mark. I ride a lot of work for Tim Fitzsimmons, some rides didn’t work out, but things have worked out nicely for Gold Star.
“When the draws came out, I was concerned with his barrier (No. 3) as he likes a bit of room, but Tim has levelled it up.
“He told me the 1,400m can get the draw to work for us. When I saw the Lim’s colours (Lim’s Kosciuszko) in front, I stuck on his back.”
Lim’s Kosciuszko was all poised for his ninth win in a row after he sailed past the fading leader Fame Star (Jerlyn Seow) at the 300m.
But that was underestimating Fitzsimmons’ Gold Star, who had tracked Lim’s Kosciuszko throughout.
Like most of the backmarkers struggling to keep up, the Redente six-year-old did seem to be going on the one spot for a few seconds.
But a combination of Lim’s Kosciuszko shortening strides and Gold Star finally sprouting wings – and probably a hungrier Stewart – saw the unthinkable happen.
Gold Star swept past the hotpot to score with 3/4-length to spare, and smash the 1,400m record on the Long Course in the process.
He clocked 1min 20.48sec to better the previous mark held by Ace Aliado in 2009 by 0.27 sec.
Other long shots to send the throng of people off on a bittersweet note were Sabah Star (Race 8, $57) and City Gate (Race 9, $49). Not to mention, they came but did not get to cheer tearaway leader Manoel Nunes home.
The Brazilian had a rare off-day when he returned home empty-handed for the first time this year, but is still well clear on the log – 41 winners against Oscar Chavez’s haul of 19 winners, extended by one through Sabah Star.
Gold Star to skip the Kranji Mile
Tim Fitzsimmons is surprisingly steering clear of the Group 1 Kranji Mile (1,600m), even after his valiant galloper Gold Star upstaged some of the likely favourites of the $1 million showpiece on May 21.
The Australian horseman was the picture of composure after the Gold Stable ward turned giant-killer against the likes of Lim’s Kosciuszko, Lim’s Lightning and Katak in the Class 1 race over 1,400m, the Kranji Mile prelude billed as the “race before the race”.
Many thought it was a no-brainer to press the son of Redente on to that much-awaited finale, not to mention he is even ranked 14th in the nominations.
But that was putting words in Fitzsimmons’ mouth.
“I don’t think he’d settle over the mile. I’ll speak to the owners and we may then set him for the Lion City Cup instead,” said the Australian handler, who was ex-Kranji trainer Cliff Brown’s assistant-trainer from 2008 to 2018.
“Today was the first time he ran over 1,400m with blinkers. He’s not easy to settle.
“We’ve been dropping him back to 1,200m, but they need to roll along. If there was a day he would get the speed on in a 1,400m race, today was the day.
He’s just so honest and it’s also rewarding to get a win for the Yongs.”
The $300,000 Group 1 Lion City Cup (1,200m) is on Aug 14. The premier sprint is a feature race Fitzsimmons won twice as assistant-trainer with Zac Spirit in 2014 and 2016.
With the Kranji Mile due in three weeks, yesterday’s races will see more “chop and change” until the final line-up. The two Lim’s – Lim’s Kosciuszko and Lim’s Lightning, who ran a creditable sixth first-up yesterday – will probably still be regarded as the two main threats, but third fancy Katak ran last.
In his defence, the South African import, who had leading jockey Manoel Nunes up for the first time, was caught three wide throughout.
He returned with multiple cuts to both hind legs.