Champion jockey Manoel Nunes’ strong faith in Infantry was repaid manifold when the Tavistock four-year-old bounced back to the winner’s circle in the $200,000 Group 3 JBBA Moonbeam Vase (1800m) on Sunday.
A few knockers had been hinting that the Thai-owned Group 2 Merlion Trophy winner was not cracked out to be that good when fourth to Time Odyssey in an Open Handicap race over 1600m three weeks ago.
But the man who held the steering wheel would be in a better position to pass a judgement, and Nunes was adamant – ignore that run.
Infantry (Manoel Nunes, No 3) pulls out all the stops to claim the JBBA Moonbeam Vase, picture Singapore Turf Club
“There was no pace in the race at his last start and he had a heavy weight (58kgs) on his back, and gave weight to his rivals,” said the Brazilian jockey.
“He was also held up for a run on the inside, and by the time they quickened at the 600m, he couldn’t quite go with them. To me, it was still a good run considering how slow they went.
“To me, it was best to ignore that run. I was convinced he would be even better over 1800m as long as there is a genuine pace to the race.”
Nunes’ wish was granted as there was a steady tempo to the 11th renewal of the feature race from the get-go with noted frontrunner Order Of The Sun (Benny Woodworth) strolling to the front.
Next in the running line was the Ricardo Le Grange pair of Time Odyssey (Barend Vorster) and Perfect P (John Powell), the latter in the box seat, while Infantry ($42) had settled in an ideal spot in mid-division just ahead of favourite Gilt Complex (Michael Rodd).
That pair would actually begin their run together, but that advantage that Infantry held over Gilt Complex proved to be unassailable in the end, even if Cliff Brown’s gallant bay ran his heart out inside the last 300m, only to fall short by a head.
Queen Elizabeth II Cup winner Laughing Gravy (Shafiq Rizuan) did look half-a-chance when he tried to squeeze his way between runners in the home straight, but he had to settle for third place another three parts of a length away. The winning time was 1min 47.43secs for the 1800m on the Long Course.
Connections at the winning dais: (from left) owner Mr Preecha Chaisirinon, trainer Alwin Tan and jockey Manoel Nunes.
Upon knowing he had nailed it, Nunes could not hold back his joy after the line as he raised his hand in delight.
“I thanked God for another big win. Competition is tough this year, but I’m slowly finding my way back to the top,” said the three-time Singapore champion jockey who has ironically leapt over Rodd on the ladder to now sit in second spot on 23 winners, two behind Vlad Duric.
“Alwin has done a great job with this horse. We were over the Long Course, and he really kept fighting to the line.
“I never had any doubt he would see out the 1800m. He is going the right way for the Derby.”
The Group 1 Emirates Singapore Derby (2000m) has always been the long-haul target for Tan’s galloper, even if he was a little apprehensive how he would fare at his first local test over nine furlongs. Infantry did run over 1800m before but it was in Korea in the deep sand and ran nowhere.
“To be honest, I didn’t have a lot of confidence about him going for the first time over 1800m, but this horse has such a big heart,” said Tan who recombined with Nunes two races later to saddle a double with $161 longshot Power Lin in the $60,000 Why Be 2007 Stakes, a Class 4 Division 2 race over 1200m.
“I was a bit disappointed with his last run. He raced a bit keen and that was why I took off the visors today.
“I would say he is the best horse in my yard at the moment. He will be going for the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge now.”
The Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge kicks off with the Group 2 Stewards’ Cup (1400m) on May 28, followed by the Group 1 Patron’s Bowl (1600m) on June 18 before wrapping up with the Group 1 Emiratres Singapore Derby (2000m).
Rodd said he gave Gilt Complex every conceivable chance but he knew it would take a supreme effort to get past Infantry.
“Infantry is a very good horse. We tracked him but when he kicked on in the straight, it was almost impossible to catch him,” said the Australian jockey.
“It was still a very brave effort from Gilt Complex. He is looking for more ground, too.”
With that seventh win, Infantry has seen his stakes earnings tally bulge close to the $675,000 mark for the Kajorn Petch R No 2 Stable.