Gilt-edged goal ahead after Complex lands Raffles surprise

The $700,000 Group 1 Raffles Cup (1800m) unveiled a stunning but deserving winner in the underrated Gilt Complex on Sunday.

Admittedly, form students had tagged this year’s renewal of the second Leg of the Singapore Triple Crown series as one of the widest open Raffles Cups in years, especially with first-Leg winner Infantry (Panasonic Kranji Mile) coming out through injury.

From the field of 12 runners, one could throw a blanket over half of them, so close they were within each other. Invariably, those who finished right behind Infantry in the Kranji Mile were next in the firing line, for instance $16 favourite Debt Collector, runner-up Countofmontecristo (even if the 1800m was a distance query), Lim’s Cruiser, Majestic Moments or even the rising stars Chopin’s Fantaisie, Jupiter Gold and Forever Young.

A blinkered-again Gilt Complex (A'Isisuhairi Kasim) runs his rivals off their feet in the Group 1 Raffles Cup, picture Singapore Turf Club

Gilt Complex ($222) probably got just a cursory look, or as a placegetter in a top-four finish at best. Even trainer Cliff Brown – who was wearing emerald (Gilt Complex’s colours) pants and tie to match, just a coincidence no doubt – had from the outset consigned the Gold Centre six-year-old to the “just warming up for the Gold Cup” box, favouring stablemates and Debt Collector and Elite Excalibur more.

But horses don’t read the late mail, and certainly not Gilt Complex who showed no inferiority complex against his so-called better-credentialled adversaries when he took the race by the scruff of the neck shortly after straightening up.

Stitched to leader Forever Young (Benny Woodworth) from the get-go, Gilt Complex turned giant-killer the moment jockey A’Isisuhairi Kasim let down the handbrakes 400m from home.

Those emerald colours famously led to numerous Group victories by former champion galloper Spalato in a not-too-distant past shot to the front - and rather ominously to prominence again, seeing that the big guns looked to have jammed.

Trainer Michael Clements’ redoubtable duo of Countofmontecristo (Manoel Nunes) and Chopin’s Fantaisie (Vlad Duric) were in the mix, but looking decidedly one-paced. Elite Excalibur (John Powell) and Lim’s Cruiser (Glen Boss) had a bit more punch to their challenge, but they were not cutting much ice either with Gilt Complex delving into his superior stamina to go and outstay and outsmart his rivals fair and square, even if on paper it remained a result that came totally out of left field.

The winning margin from runner-up Elite Excalibur was 1 ¾ lengths for a Brown quinella with Lim’s Cruiser third another half-length away. Countofmontecristo probably did not see out the 1 1/8 mile trip but still ran out of his skin to finish a gallant fourth another half-length away, a short head from stable companion Chopin’s Fantaisie. The winning time was 1min 47.38secs for the 1800m on the Long Course.

Brown was naturally elated with a second consecutive Raffles Cup triumph after Debt Collector last year, even if he did seem a bit surprised by the name that will be engraved next to his on the roll of honour for 2017.

“I thought his barrier trial on Tuesday was very good. He appreciated the track today,” said the Australian trainer.

“Unfortunately, I think the other two, Debt Collector (sixth) and Elite Excalibur, felt the track.

“I always thought he (Gilt Complex) was more of a Gold Cup horse, and he is definitely a Gold Cup horse now.”

Raffles Cup honours: (from left) assistant trainer Tim Fitzsimmons, jockey A'Isisuhairi Kasim and trainer Cliff Brown, picture Singapore Turf Club

While Brown has already set his sights on the third and final Leg of the Singapore Triple Crown series (of which the Raffles Cup is the second Leg), the Group 1 Dester Singapore Gold Cup (2200m) on November 12, Gilt Complex’s overjoyed rider was only too happy to live the present moment.

The former two-time Singapore champion apprentice jockey is no stranger to Group accolades having notched four feature race wins, three at Group 2 level, namely the 2013 EW Barker Trophy (Trudeau), the 2014 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (Wild Geese) when he was still an apprentice and the 2016 Stewards’ Cup (Titanium). He also won the Group 3 JBBA Moonbeam Vase with Thumping in 2015.

But landing his first Group 1 win – six days after his 32nd birthday – unsurprisingly now ranked as the New Zealand-trained jockey’s highest achievement.

The significance of the moment was taking a while to sink in, but A’Isisuhairi or ‘Harry’ as he is better known, was still able to share an interesting anecdote as he stepped off the weigh-in scales.

“Just yesterday, I was so happy my friend Cory Parish won his first Group 1 race, the Caulfield Cup (with Boom Time). We rode in New Zealand together, and I immediately texted him: Good on you, Cory!” said the Kelantan-born rider who had his wife Nurul Jannah by his side at the lead-in.

“Little did I know that I would also be winning my first Group 1 race the next day. It’s amazing!

“It’s a phenomenal feeling. I’ve won three Group 2 races and one Group 3 race, but we all try to win a Group 1 race, and I’ve always believed that Group 1 win would happen.

“I rode this horse once and ran second with him (BM97 race over 2000m in March). He is a horse that can overrace, and the key to him is to get him to relax.

“I watched his second-last race when (Manoel) Nunes rode him, and I think he didn’t handle the track. I saw him trial (with Michael Rodd) and I thought he went super.

“Having the blinkers back on helped him today. There was a good pace to the race and he settled very well behind the leader Forever Young, nobody disturbed him.

“When I pushed the button at the 300m, I hit the front, but I kept wondering when are the big boys going to get past me.

“At the 100m, I was still in front. I kept asking ‘Where are they? Am I going to win that race? And that was when I realised, yes, I was going to win the race!

“A big thank you to Mr Brown and the owners (Graham Mackie and Trish Dunell) for putting me on. They could have put another jockey on as it was not a lightweight ride, but they have stuck with me.”

With that seventh win (first three came under the care of Spalato’s trainer John O’Hara), Gilt Complex has now seen his stakes earnings leap from around $410,000 to hit close to the $780,000 mark.