Throwback to late May 2019 and news broke that high-class galloper Countofmontecristo would be retired from Singapore racing to continue his career in Australia.
Owner Joe Singh had grand plans laid out for 'The Count': he would be sent Down Under to target some feature races in Melbourne and Perth, and eventually come back to Kranji for another crack at the SIN G1 Kranji Mile, in which he finished fifth to Hong Kong galloper Southern Legend on 25 May 2019.
Singh, however, revisited his options and came back on his decision to send his charge to Australia – Countofmontecristo was pulled from quarantine and stayed put in Singapore.
Little did anyone know at the time that come 2020, the world would be brought to its knees by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the best-laid plans have well and truly gone astray. But as luck would have it, the decision to keep Countofmontecristo in Singapore has presented the chance of a lifetime for the seven-year-old to land that elusive local G1.
Countofmontecristo has been a story of "close but no cigar" at the elite level around Kranji. The 2017 Singapore Three-Year-Old champion boasts an enviable record of 10 wins and 10 placings from 30 starts for S$1.98 million in stakes earnings, but has not yet been able to win from 12 attempts at the Lion City's highest level.
Countofmontecristo has claimed two SIN G2 wins for the Michael Clements yard since the decision was made for him to remain racing at Kranji – the Merlion Trophy (1200m) and the Chairman's Trophy (1600m) – and races second-up in the Kranji Mile this week off the back of a classy first-up win in a Class 1 Handicap over 1200m on the Polytrack on 11 July.
Countofmontecristo bypassed the Kranji Mile lead-up race – a Class 1 Handicap over 1400m on 2 August – and instead has been kept fresh and ticking over with two barrier trials.
As Sunday's (16 August) Kranji Mile is run at set-weights conditions, it sees Countofmontecristo extremely well-in as the highest-rated runner on a handicap rating of 115. The market should react accordingly and be firmly in his corner given the weights and measures edge.
Countofmontecristo is one of six Clements-trained gallopers to line up in the Kranji Mile, with stable mates Top Knight, Siam Blue Vanda, Safeer, On Line and Vittoria Perfetta (emergency acceptor) forming the sextet.
Top Knight and Siam Blue Vanda went off joint favourites upon their return in that Class 1 Handicap billed as the Kranji Mile lead-up race, but could only manage eighth and sixth, respectively. Both will be looking to recapture the form they were in pre-Singapore racing's lockdown.
Mr Clint, who lines up as the second-highest rated runner on a handicap rating of 102, generally saves his best for the big stage; last year's SIN G1 Singapore Gold Cup (2000m) winner boasts two wins and three placings from eight attempts in this grade and did have excuses last time when the saddle slipped. Prior to that, he ran a slashing third to Countofmontecristo at his first-up assignment.
An old foe to Mr Clint, six-year-old King Louis is another chasing a first Group 1 success, and he was certainly the eye-catcher in the lead-up race. He checked home a fast-finishing second place on that occasion, and will relish the extra furlong on Sunday.
Lightly-raced Aramaayo, one of three representatives for trainer Shane Baertschiger, is another looking to shine, racing second off an eye-catching first-up effort over an unsuitable trip. The Poet's Voice gelding dons' blinkers for the first time and will be suited by what appears likely to be, on paper, a fast-run S$1 million feature race.