The year that was - 2017 season

The 2017 season has come and gone in the blink of an eye, but the level of competition and the high standard of horses racing at Kranji have been as intense as ever, and will be etched in racegoers’ minds for a long time to come. Those days of one horse or two being a cut above the rest are long gone. Instead, we were treated to a wide array of the old and new guard vying for supremacy across the different grades and conditions of races throughout the 90 meetings. To illustrate the competitiveness, none of the series saw the emergence of just one dominant force. Countofmontecristo took out the first two Legs of the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge but was downed by American-bred gelding Forever Young at the last hurdle, the Singapore Guineas. Similarly, the 4YO series was a close contest with Alibi a shade better in the first two Legs before Infantry blew them away in the Emirates Singapore Derby. The same Infantry made the Panasonic Kranji Mile his own but injury ruled him out in the next Leg, with Gilt Complex rising to the occasion in the last two Legs of the Singapore Triple Crown series even if he had to dig down deep in a three-way battle in the Dester Singapore Gold Cup. In the apprentice jockey’s category, the ding-dong battle between Wong Chin Chuen, the defending champion, and his challenger Zawari Razali kept racegoers on the edge of their seats all year until Wong kicked clear only in the last couple of weeks or so. Caulfield Cup-winning jockey Vlad Duric was the runaway leader for the best part of the season, and even though he lost steam late, defending champion Manoel Nunes came up short by six winners. Off the track, the main event has to be the announcement by the Singapore Turf Club they will launch three racing initiatives in a bid to revitalise the racing industry.


Guru-Guru claims the traditional first feature of the year, the New Year Cup, handing trainer Desmond Koh a first win in the Group 3 race and another feature win to veteran Malaysian multiple-champion jockey Azhar Ismail. Trainer Shane Baertschiger puts the writing on the wall for the season to come with his first four-timer on January 2 - Commodore Lincoln, I’ve Got A Feeling, Creamy Custard and Aramco, who also gives his stable jockey John Powell his 500th winner at Kranji. Blue Diamond hands French jockey Olivier Placais his 100th win on January 7. Elite Excalibur begins his Dubai campaign for trainer Steven Burridge with a creditable fifth place, but was unable to win in four subsequent runs, with a second place as his best performance. Debt Collector is voted 2016 Singapore Horse of the Year at the 2016 Singapore Racing Awards on January 17. This year’s Chinese New Year feature race, the Group 3 Fortune Bowl, first time run over 1600m instead of 2000m, is captured by Big Brother for first-season handler Ricardo Le Grange’s first ‘black type’ win in his own right as a trainer on January 29. Trainer Stephen Gray reaches his 600th win milestone with Darc Bounty on January 30.


The Polytrack course is closed for the best part of February as it gets a new waxing coat. Singapore Horse of the Year Debt Collector makes a smashing racing comeback after a break by taking the Canada Cup on February 10. Asprey, Hidden Promise, Nazir and Star Strike hand trainer Mark Walker a four-timer, one of two such hauls the New Zealand handler will bring up towards his second championship-winning season after 2015. Jockey Danny Beasley rings up win No 500 on Chalaza on February 24. Jockey Alan Munro makes a quick jaunt to Qatar count when he reels in two winners at the prestigious Emir’s Sword meeting on February 25.


Infantry cements his great form with a win over better-fancied stablemate Nova Swiss in the Group 2 Merlion Trophy on March 5. There was no joy for the two Singapore runners at the Dubai World Cup meeting on March 25. Both Debt Collector (Dubai Turf) and Quechua (Dubai Gold Cup) finished out of the placings. Countofmontecristo secures the first Leg of the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge, the Group 3 Singapore Three-Year-Old Sprint on March 26. A couple of races later, Lim’s Cruiser wins the Group 3 Rocket Man Sprint.

Countofmontecristo (Glen Boss) takes out the Group 3 Singapore Three-Year-Old Sprint on March 26, picture Singapore Turf Club


After riding at Kranji since 2016, Malaysian apprentice Shafrizal Saleh finally opened the score with Ahmar on April 6. Countofmontecristo wins the second Leg of the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge, the Group 2 Singapore Three-Year-Old Classic on April 14. Two feature races were run two days later, with the first, the Group 3 JBBA Moonbeam Vase going to Infantry while Lim’s Cruiser hands Kiwi trainer Stephen Gray a first win in the Group 1 Lion City Cup. Reigning Singapore champion trainer Alwin Tan hits win No 400 with Soon Yi on April 30.


From May 2, the Singapore Racecourse at Kranji is open to the general public for recreational use from 6am to 10am on Mondays through to Saturdays, inclusive of public holidays. American-bred gelding Forever Young gives second-year trainer Kuah Cheng Tee a first Group 1 triumph in the Singapore Guineas on May 14. As an earlier prelude to the third Leg of the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge, the Group 3 Saas Fee Stakes proves to be an exciting warm-up when Bruce Marsh’s old warrior War Affair and Ricardo Le Grange’s Storm Troops could not be split at the wire. Three new trainers are granted licences, Saimee Jumaat, Young Keah Yong and Tan Kah Soon at the end of May. Japanese trainer Hideyuki Takaoka claims his 400th Kranji win with Dance In The Wind on May 26. Unheralded galloper Alibi springs a mini surprise by taking the Group 2 Stewards’ Cup, the first Leg of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge on May 28.

Dead-heat in a feature race when War Affair (middle) and Storm Troops (outside) cannot be split in the Group 3 Saas Fee Stakes on May 14, picture Singapore Turf Club


Trainer Ricardo Le Grange captures his first Group 1 success with Quechua in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, first time run over 1800m instead of 2000m, on June 4. The same day, Moon Se Young becomes the first South Korean jockey to win in Singapore when he scores atop Thunder Cat. Alibi answers the rise in challenge in the best possible way by taking the second Leg of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge, the Group 1 Patron’s Bowl with the same fighting spirit as in the Stewards’ Cup on June 18.


It’s a mixed day for Mauritian jockey Nooresh Juglall at a quick pitstop in South Africa where his main assignment Safe Harbour beats one home in the Vodacom Durban July on July 1, but he gets some compensation from a Grade 2 win in the Durban Golden Horseshoe aboard Purple Diamond. Be Bee comes up trumps in the Group 2 Aushorse Golden Horseshoe on July 7. Perth champion jockey William Pike wins his first race at Kranji with Chairman on July 9. He later doubles the score on Mr Crowe, both for trainer Laurie Laxon. Some doubted his stamina, but Infantry showed his class by prevailing in the Group 1 Emirates Singapore Derby, the third and final Leg of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge on July 9. Distinctive Darci lands the Korea Racing Authority Trophy on July 23. Korean visitors Zentenary and Choegangja finished unplaced. Top two-year-old Mr Hanks bounces back from his Aushorse Golden Horseshoe failure with a resounding win in the Group 3 Juvenile Championship on July 30.


New Zealand jockey Craig Grylls lands his first Singapore win aboard Uncle Lucky on August 4, though he is a little outshone by another visiting rider claiming his first win on the same day, Hong Kong boom apprentice jockey Matthew Poon, aboard Certainly. In the space of only two weeks, the Adelaide-trained youngster, who was visiting Kranji on the annual South Australian Dux of apprentices’ award, became an overnight sensation after he went on to rack up five more wins, including his first career Group win aboard Faaltless in the Group 3 Garden City Trophy on August 6. The same day, Forever Young upstages his rivals with another bold frontrunning display in the Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy. Saimee Jumaat trains his first winner, Shoqeet, on August 13. Ricardo Le Grange’s new Malaysian apprentice jockey Krisna Thangamani lands his first Singapore win with Mighty Emperor on August 20. Top Australian jockey Danny Beasley hangs up his boots to become assistant-trainer to Daniel Meagher on August 22. On August 23, the Singapore Turf Club announces the launch of three new racing initiatives regarding number of races and prizemoney effective from January 1, 2018 and the reintroduction of international races from 2019. Trainer Sonny Yeoh brings curtains on a short five-year career by bowing out a winner on his last day of training on September 27 with Super G – his 94th winner.

Rising Hong Kong star Matthew Poon lands his first Group race aboard Faaltless in the Group 3 Garden City Trophy on August 6, picture Singapore Turf Club


Macau-based French jockey Ryan Curatolo makes a strong impact at his hit-and-run visit on September 1, riding two winners for trainer Kuah Cheng Tee, Golden Spark and Eden Garden. Jockey Nooresh Juglall wins the last race at his one-day visit at his native Mauritius’ biggest raceday, the Maiden Cup day on September 3. Nine-time Singapore champion trainer Laurie Laxon calls it quits after 17 years at Kranji. He is replaced by Australian Hall of Fame trainer Lee Freedman effective from September 8. On the same day, New Zealand-trained apprentice jockey Zyrul Nor Azman bags his first win, Mings Man for his master Bruce Marsh. Countofmontecristo takes on older horses in the Group 3 Jumbo Jet Trophy landing the top prize in style on September 10. Freedman saddles his first Kranji winner, Mr Clint on the same day. Wimbledon is the sole representative at the International races in South Korea on September 10, but fails to finish in the money. Twickenham scores a second consecutive win in the Group 3 Committee’s Prize on September 17, incidentally handing Singapore champion apprentice jockey Wong Chin Chuen a first Group win.


Valiant galloper Infantry kicks off the month of October with a stellar win in the Group 1 Panasonic Kranji Mile on October 1. Singapore apprentice jockeys Khalid Marzuki and Darren Danis receive New Zealand awards recognising their emerging talents on October 2. Trainer Cliff Brown wins his third Racing Guide Classic with Poseidon on October 10. General Conatus becomes new trainer Tan Kah Soon’s first winner on October 15. Trainer Daniel Meagher wins his first Group race since beginning training at Kranji in April 2016 when longshot Secret Win lands the Group 3 El Dorado Classic on October 22. The same day another surprise is in store when Gilt Complex upstages better-fancied horses in the Group 1 Raffles Cup, handing his rider A’Isisuhairi Kasim his highest accolade. An interesting anecdote on that day was the occurrence of two dead-heats in two successive races: Lim’s Pershing and Little Master in Race 2, followed by Mighty Kenny and Makanani in the next race. October is also the month of firsts for new apprentice jockeys and comeback apprentice jockeys. Talented rider Noh Senari seals his return from a three-year absence with a first win aboard Awesome for his new boss Saimee Jumaat on October 13. One week later, Mark Walker’s new apprentice jockey Hanafi Noorman scores his first win aboard Haytham on October 20. He was followed suit by Cliff Brown’s apprentice jockey Nuh Komari who opened his account with Certainly on October 29.


2014 Singapore Horse of the Year War Affair heads to New Zealand for a six-month break in a bid to solve his wind issues. First-year trainer Tan Kah Soon does not wait too long to show his Group credentials when Clarton Super takes the Group 2 EW Barker Trophy on November 10. The next day, New Zealand trainer Donna Logan is unveiled as the new trainer to join the Kranji training ranks from January 2018. On November 12, trainer Cliff Brown bags his first win in the Group 1 Dester Singapore Gold Cup with late bloomer Gilt Complex. Derreck David seals his Kranji adventure with a last win aboard Shoqeet on November 17. The South African jockey’s licence has not been renewed along with five other jockeys, Manoel Nunes, Oscar Chavez (who booted home five winners in two days at his last couple of weeks of riding), John Sundradas, Shafiq Rizuan and Syafiq Hazman. Stephen Gray’s apprentice jockey Amirul Ismadi rides his first winner in Tasmania, Dee Dee Red Prince. The son of Ipoh trainer Ismadi Ismail is in Tasmania for three months.


On December 2, last year’s Singapore Horse of the Year Debt Collector leaves for Australia where he will spell for five months. The traditional last feature race before the industry goes into recess, the Group 3 Colonial Chief Stakes is captured by Nova Strike for Alwin Tan on December 3, incidentally handing three-time Singapore champion jockey Manoel Nunes a last hurrah at Kranji. Former eight-time Singapore champion jockey Saimee Jumaat ends his first year as a trainer with a flourish when he saddles his first treble on the last day of the season with Southern Spur, Hongchen and Shoqeet. The same day, Victorian jockey Daniel Moor wins his first Kranji race aboard Skywalk. The various premierships are captured by trainer Mark Walker (87 wins) for his second title after 2015, Australian jockey Vlad Duric (83 wins) for the first time and Malaysian apprentice jockey Wong Chin Chuen (30 wins), who fought off a spirited challenge from Zawari Razali to clinch back-to-back titles. In the horse owners category, the Lim’s Stable again took the honours for most wins in the season.

The Racing Desk at the Singapore Turf Club takes this opportunity to wish all our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2018.