Knight's last move before Raffles Cup
Top Knight took the best part of last year to finally hit his straps, and one year on, it’s starting to feel like déjà vu.
At his most prolific season as a three-year-old in 2019, the Michael Clements-trained son of Zoustar racked up seven of his nine wins, including the Group 1 Singapore Guineas (1600m), but the four-year-old season was to turn out a touch more sluggish.
He needed seven starts to finally salute again, albeit with five seconds a proof there was still a motor there. The timing was spot-on, too. He peaked in time for the race he had been aimed at, the Group 1 Singapore Derby (1800m) in September.
When it rains, it pours. A third Group 1 followed in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (1800m) eight weeks later.
But after a nice rest during the Christmas break, Groundhog Day struck the next season. In four starts this campaign, not a single win, let alone a placing has come his way.
To be fair, the race programming has been a mismatch, except for the Group 1 Kranji Mile (1600m) on May 22.
He did give a fleeting impression the Top Knight of old was back when he whipped around the field with his trademark searching run under regular partner Vlad Duric, but it was clearly a more watered-down version. He could only finish fifth to Minister.
One month later, a Kranji Stakes A race over 1400m with four-kilo claimer Jerlyn Seow Poh Hui up again slipped under the radar (fourth to Lim's Lightning).
If fans' patience to see another one of Top Knight's pulsating wins is wearing thin, they may have to wait a little longer. Clements is dropping the rising six (turns six on the day he races) back in distance even further to 1200m in Sunday's $100,000 Kranji Stakes A race.
"This will be another pipe-opener for Top Knight. It's not ideal, but the way the programme is, that is the best option for him," said Clements.
"I've put the same claimer (Seow) as last time. She rode him pretty well considering he was up against some of the better Singapore sprinters.
"It's the case again this Sunday, so I'm not expecting much other than a nice warm-up towards the mile of the (Group 1) Raffles Cup (on September 18).
"I'll then give him a 10-day freshen-up and he will then go straight to the Raffles Cup."
Clements is also using Sunday's race to throw Safeer back into the swing of things after a prolonged absence.
The five-time winner (1100m to 1200m) is stepping out for his first 2021 outing, but while he ran a decent sixth to Aramaayo in last year's Raffles Cup and an even better third to Makanani the previous year, Clements isn't revisiting that path for the Al Arabiya Stable-owned Savabeel six-year-old.
"Safeer had a hoof issue. He's taken a long time to recover from that," said the Zimbabwean-born trainer who has booked his former apprentice jockey Shafrizal Saleh for the ride.
"He's good to go now. I've always had a high opinion of him, but I'll just keep him to sprint races.
"We did get him up over the mile last time. After he was a really good thing third in the Raffles Cup two years ago, that opened our eyes to continuing to get him up over the mile, and campaign him towards feature races.
"But we saw he was clearly keen in his last races, and that's why I'd rather keep him down in sprint races. He will head towards the Merlion Trophy."
The Group 3 Merlion Trophy (1200m) on Polytrack is one of only two sprint features in open company scheduled this year, and is due on November 27. The other one is of course the Group 1 Lion City Cup (1200m), already run in April and claimed by Lim's Lightning.
Being the first and last to go, they bookend a significantly reduced Singapore feature race calendar.
Another galloper on the comeback trail and potential 'black type' contender the Singapore champion trainer may add to the already awesome firepower at his disposal is French import Sincerely .
The five-year-old son of relatively unknown sire Evasive was a Listed mile race winner in Toulouse in 2019, but he is not in the Raffles Cup mix.
"Sincerely has had a bit of racing, and he took some time off just to rest up," said Clements of the gelding who races in the same interests as Top Knight's, Singapore champion owner Falcon Racing Stable.
"He has come back into this new prep and his trial (ridden by Shafrizal) was pleasing yesterday (second to David's Sling). We'll see how he comes through, but he will more likely have one more trial.
"So far, he has not proven he was able to match up to the best at weight-for-age. Hopefully, he will come back stronger this prep.
"If he can improve on his standing, we can then look at a couple of feature races for him, but he does have to step up to warrant a shot at the better races.
"But the Raffles Cup is definitely out. We'll run him in the lesser races, and hopefully, we can then consider the QEII Cup and the Gold Cup."
The Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Cup (1800m) and the Group 1 Singapore Gold Cup (2000m) are due on October 16 and November 14 respectively.
Together with the Raffles Cup as the kickoff race, they used to be part of the Singapore Triple Crown series, which is unfortunately scrapped this year, even if the prestige associated with these races remains unimpaired.
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