Disappointment was visible in the Michael Clements yard shortly after Countofmontecristo failed at the last hurdle of his bold bid to make a clean sweep of the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge on Sunday.
Hopes had been high all week the son of Echoes Of Heaven would become the sixth horse to complete the Triple Crown, even if some had cast some doubts over his ability to see out the mile of the Group 1 Singapore Guineas.
Unfortunately, Countofmontecristo could only finish third to outsider Forever Young, beaten more than two lengths away. Kuah Cheng Tee’s US-bred had cleverly snookered his nine rivals with a bold frontrunning race from a long way out, holding off Jupiter Gold ($11), who just nudged Countofmontecristo ($12) out of favouritism, by three parts of a length.
Hip Hip Hooray (Mohd Zaki, rails) ran a bottler of a race in the Saas Fee Stakes, picture Singapore Turf Club
But Clements revealed that there might be a reason to offer as excuse for the Joe Singh-owned galloper.
“He pulled up sore on the morning after. He had hoof bruising,” said the Zimbabwean-born handler.
“I still felt the horse ran well enough, even if I expected better. I feel he is capable of better even over 1600m.
“I still feel he is better than the two who beat him on that day, but obviously, he was not able to ping as he normally does.
“Take nothing away from the winner. He is a good horse and he had things his way in front on a track that suited him on that day.
“My horse is going for a well-deserved break now. I will bring him back as a four-year-old.”
As much as Countofmontecristo’s third place was hard to swallow, Clements’ other feature race contender on the day (and also owned by Singh) also filled the same spot, but the feeling was diametrically opposite even if he did not score either.
Rank-outsider Hip Hip Hooray was barely given a glance to figure in the Group 3 Saas Fee Stakes (1400m) two races earlier, especially going with his last two ordinary runs, but well rated by Mohd Zaki upfront, he nearly sprang a massive $765 boilover.
It had to take a mighty effort from resuming champion War Affair and up-and-comer Storm Troops to thwart a win which would have not triggered a lot of “hip hip hoorays” in the crowd.
But Clements was understandably rapt with the run of a horse he only took over recently from trainer David Kok, for whom he scored his only win on debut last year.
“His runs for me weren’t any good, but he was coming right, picking up slowly and surely,” said Clements.
“I trialled him without blinkers two weeks ago and he went beautifully. I always felt that he would be better suited over seven furlongs, even if he has been tried mainly over 1200m.
“He didn’t have enough speed to go forward over 1200m, but over 1400m, I thought it’d be easier to do so. (Mohd) Zaki rode him very well and it nearly came off.
“The low handicap suited him better than level weights, too. I will give him a freshen-up now and look for a nice race for him.”