Second-year trainer Alvin Kuah Cheng Tee captured his first Group 1 win after Forever Young made all the running in the $500,000 Singapore Guineas (1600m) on Sunday.
It was actually his first feature silverware at only his 19th success since officially beginning training on April 1, 2016.
Ridden by a jockey who is also seldom in the limelight, the no less talented Benedict Woodworth, Forever Young, thanks to a bold frontrunning ploy, lowered the colours of a crack field dominated by the two headline acts of this year’s three-year-old batch – Countofmontecristo and Jupiter Gold – followed closely by Could Be Pearls and Deimos.
But Forever Young’s odds of $71, the fourth shortest quote in the 10-horse field, did indicate some specking after all, presumably on the strength of his mighty effort in the Group 1 Lion City Cup (1200m) at his last run, when a bad check at the 1000m arguably cost him a place to Lim’s Cruiser. He ran fourth.
Those who decided to plump for the US-bred three-year-old by little-known sire Run Away And Hide despite the stellar opposition, were repaid manifold for their unflinching faith.
Taken straight to the lead without facing much contest from the rest, Forever Young was able to establish a soft lead ahead of longshot I’ve Got A Feeling (Matthew Kellady) with the nearest leading hope, Countofmontecristo (Glen Boss, $12) in an one-out one-back spot, looking decidedly dangerous.
Favourite ($11) Jupiter Gold (Alan Munro) was a couple of lengths further astern as expected, but coursing out three wide (after jumping from the outermost alley), which could be iffy on a track that had favoured leaders all day and at mid-sectionals which were run at anything but breakneck speed.
But when a Group 1 race worth half-a-million is underway, you know the heavy artillery would sooner or later come firing away – and true to form, both Countofmontecristo and Jupiter Gold rocked up as the last 400m played out.
Forever Young swung for home as the bunny to gun down, but it soon became apparent that the chasing pack was in for a torrid time.
That impression deepened further when Woodworth was seen regathering his reins – a cue that the Malaysian jockey still had plenty of petrol left in Forever Young’s tank.
Forever Young swished his tail and pinned his ears back as he flattened out - and was off and gone.
A more dour-looking Countofmontecristo battled on bravely, but that first taste of defeat at the very last hurdle towards the 3YO clean sweep, was lingering ominously for his connections and supporters when he was seen unable to respond to Forever Young’s acceleration despite Boss’s urgings.
Jupiter Gold’s surge looked a fraction sharper on the outside, but try as he may, that unheralded American horse of Kuah’s was just impossible to yank back! Forever Young went to score by three parts of a length from Jupiter Gold with Countofmontecristo third another 1 ¼ lengths away. The winning time was 1min 34.28secs for the 1600m on the Long Course.
Congratulated left right and centre, even by his rival trainers like Jupiter Gold’s Hideyuki Takaoka, who was the first to shake his hand, Kuah was both a happy and relieved man at the winner’s circle.
The realisation he had snared his first Group 1 race had not quite dawned on him. To him, the vindication of seeing a horse that had been brushed aside as “good yes, but not good enough to down the best” was on the spur of the moment a more overwhelming feeling.
When Forever Young underscored his potential from his two wins from his first three starts, but only up to Class 4 level, not many thought he was something out of the box then - except Kuah, who had a good hunch the gelding might be more than meets the eyes.
After discussing with the Hong Kong-based owner, the former jockey decided to roll the dice and tread where not many would have dared – and in a most unorthodox manner.
He first ran him in the first Leg of the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge, the Group 3 Singapore Three-Year-Old Sprint (1200m), where he was caught wide under Derreck David and never really threatened Countofmontecristo. In a surprising move, he then threw him in at an even deeper end in the Group 1 Lion City Cup (1200m) three weeks later – and then straight to the Guineas.
Not the most textbook approach, but Kuah explained it was all a well-executed programme - with a transatlantic touch.
“It’s my first Group 1 win, but it hasn’t sunk in yet. I am just thrilled this horse has proven me right and here, I have to thank the American contacts who sold this horse. They always told me he would be better ridden forward,” said the Singaporean trainer.
“I always felt he was a 1400m-1600m horse, but I purposely skipped the 1400m Leg and used the Lion City Cup as a lead-up race to the Guineas instead. He ran very well in the Lion City Cup and could have even finished closer if he didn’t get a bad check in the backstraight.
“That run gave me the confidence he could run up to the best horses in Sinagapore, and at weight-for-age, against his own age group, he would be even better.
“As I’ve said all along, this horse has a heart of a lion. To me, there was no harm in giving it a try. Woodworth gave him a good ride by sending him forward and it was catch-me-if-you-can from that point onwards.
“I’ve always maintained Woodworth is one of the best jockeys here. He’s a Group 1-winning jockey and he proved it today.”
The former multiple-Singapore champion apprentice jockey was actually not at his first Singapore Guineas success. His name figures on the honour roll as the winning rider of the Laurie Laxon-trained Ace Armada in that race 10 years ago in 2007.
But at the time, the race was a Group 3 event, and was not part of the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge.
It is now the coveted last Leg, and a Group 1 race, Woodworth’s first since Phenom captured the Patron’s Bowl in 2008. The enormity of the occasion did not escape him.
“It’s difficult to get rides these days. To get one in a Group 1 race, you have to do your best possible to get the best out of it,” said Woodworth who was at his 11th win for the year.
“The horse ran a terrific race considering the first three horses were very strong. The trainer’s instructions were to lead and after I did that, I sat as long as possible.
“I tried not to hit him on the backside as he would then swish his tail. So I slapped him on his shoulder instead and just encouraged him to the line.
“Like CT said, this horse really has the heart of a lion.”
With that memorable win at the highest level, at least as a three-year-old, Forever Young has seen his earnings bulge from $95,000 to past the $350,000 mark for his Hong Kong-born owner Wong Chi Tat.