Quechua's quest for Dubai gold begins after last spin

Dubai-bound stayer Quechua has completed his pre-departure plans after he ticked the last box with a barrier trial hit-out at Kranji on Thursday.

The Singapore Gold Cup-Singapore Derby winner is running in the US$1 million Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup (3200m) at Meydan on March 25 and leaves for Dubai on Saturday, together with Singapore’s other representative Debt Collector who is entered in the US$6 million Group 1 Dubai Turf (1800m) at the world’s richest single raceday, the Dubai World Cup meeting.

South African trainer Ricardo Le Grange, who is always busy at the Thursday trials – 12 runners over seven trials - had his eyes scotched to the TV screen as he watched the Argentinian-bred six-year-old by Pure Prize go around the track under race-rider Barend Vorster.

Quechua (seen here winning the Emirates Singapore Derby over 2000m in 2015) faces a two-mile test in Dubai, picture Singapore Turf Club

After a smart jump, Quechua was eased into fourth place before he was tested by Vorster at the top of the straight. Stablemates Blue Danube (Mohd Firdaus) and Song To The Moon (Nooresh Juglall) kept on as they fought out the quinella in that order with Speedy Dragon (Glen Boss) in close attendance, but Quechua held his own admirably to run fourth just over one length off the winner Blue Danube.

As a good indication of the quicker closing sectionals from the leading quartet, the next runner home was last year’s Dester Singapore Gold Cup winner Bahana (Vlad Duric) – who was at his first barrier trial since his November triumph - finishing fifth six lengths astern.

“It was always the plan to give him a last barrier trial the Thursday before he leaves and I was very happy with the way he went,” said Le Grange, who is already at his first overseas assignment barely three months into his first year as a trainer in his own right.

“We’ve kept him fresh and today he had a nice hit-out before he goes. He’s in good form and I’m also happy with his body weight of 483kgs, as I wanted him to be rock-hard fit when he flies out there.”

Quechua obviously had some residual fitness from his second-up run in an Open Handicap over 2000m on February 24, when fifth to Song To The Moon, but has, according to Le Grange, come on further since.

Patrick Shaw’s former assistant-trainer did travel with the Avengers Stable-owned galloper to Hong Kong last December – a few days before he officially took over as trainer – and would know first-hand what he is like as a traveller.

Still seven hours in a pallet is a different story, and he can only hope Quechua takes it all in his stride and settles as well in the desert metropolis as he did in the former British colony during winter time. Quechua was caught wide and got checked a few times in the Group 1 Hong Kong Vase (2400m), but did well to run eighth to Satono Crown.

“We just have to cross fingers he travels there well. He flies out on Saturday but I leave tomorrow night, meaning I’ll be there to see him land,” said Le Grange.

“He’s already done the bulk of his work at home, but I may give him some grass work on Tuesday, and after that just play it by ear.”

Quechua has never ventured beyond 2200m, the trip of the Longines Singapore Gold Cup he captured in 2015, but Le Grange is convinced he is a two-mile horse.

But he will also have his job cut out against world-class stayers who are proven at the distance such as last year’s narrow Melbourne Cup runner-up Heartbreak City, Dubai champion Sheikhzayedroad, Godolphin’s Beautiful Romance – 7th in last year’s Melbourne Cup and recent winner of the Group 3 Nad Al Sheba Trophy (2810m) - and other staying stalwarts like Big Orange and Trip To Paris.