It was touch and go for a while, but Singapore Horse of the Year Debt Collector is a definite starter in the US$6 million Group 1 Dubai Turf (1800m) at Meydan on March 25.
Trainer Cliff Brown just returned from a reconnaissance visit of the state-of-the-art Dubai racecourse just so he could ascertain first-hand if the track and other conditions prevailing in the desert metropolis would suit his champion galloper.
The Australian handler obviously flew back with many of his questions answered, and after another thorough discussion with the owners, the Barree Stable, they decided that the trip was worth a gamble.
Dubai, here I come: Debt Collector and Michael Rodd, picture Singapore Turf Club
Brown had long pencilled in the Dubai race, previously known as the Dubai Duty Free, as an ideal target for the three-time Singapore Group 1 winner, and duly nominated him early this year. He, however, qualified the middle-distance galloper had to perform to his satisfaction at home before booking his ticket.
Things were right on course when he won easily at his racing comeback in a 1400m race on February 10, but Brown had one more hurdle for him to jump, an Open race over 1600m three weeks later on March 3.
But he ran third to Jupiter Gold - and the Dubai bubble was pricked but not burst yet.
Debt Collector was tasting his first defeat after an unbeaten streak of eight wins that began in November 2015, but it was rather the post-race report from the vet which really threw the Dubai trip up in the air. He was found to have returned with respiratory distress, which probably explained why he suddenly hit a brickwall after he was seen to be coasting effortlessly to his rivals in the straight, as he normally does.
Brown and connections had to reassess their plans in view of that untimely setback. But after Debt Collector pulled up well, had given no untoward signs in his work, and most importantly, had received the clearance from the vets, they saw their initial 50/50 assessment go up north in the vicinity of 75% chance of going.
Brown’s scouting trip has now made it 100%.
“I’ve never been to Dubai. I wanted to take a look for myself and see what the conditions are like, mainly the track and the training facilities,” said Brown after Magstock won at Kranji on Sunday afternoon.
“I couldn’t afford to go in blind. I was happy with what I saw, and we decided to run him after all.
“Yes, we did have a rethink after his last race, but we waited a little to see how he pulled up and he’s recovered from that respiratory distress. The horse would tell us himself.
“I’m happy with his condition and that’s the race we wanted to have a crack at. We wouldn’t know if he can measure up if we stayed at home, and that’s why we rolled the dice and went for it.
“He is leaving at the end of this week, together with Ricardo’s (Le Grange) horse (Quechua).”
The Derby-Gold Cup winner is entered in the US$1 million Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup (3200m).
Jockey Michael Rodd was thrilled to learn it was all systems go. The Australian jockey had been riding Debt Collector in his work after his last run, and thought it would have been a waste if he didn’t go.
“I rode him the other day and he was bucking his brands off,” said Rodd, who has ridden Debt Collector to all of his eight wins, but one (when ridden by Vlad Duric).
“There’s nothing wrong with him. He’s back in mint condition and it’s the right time to test the Dubai waters for him.
“Cliffy is a perfectionist and he’s gone over to check out the place. He was given a walking tour of the track and the training facilities and he now knows what’s in store for him.
“It’s all very exciting for Debt Collector and Singapore.”