“He will be the underdog this time,” said trainer Cliff Brown matter-of-factly.
There was a barely veiled sense of relief imbibed in that somewhat offbeat statement made by the Australian handler ahead of the racing comeback of the horse who took all before him last year, Debt Collector, the people’s undisputed 2016 champion.
Brown is known for calling a spade a spade in his no-nonsense style. He does not ingratiate himself with anyone, gives his two cents’ worth when needed, but he will also give credit when credit is due.
Debt Collector is a five-time ‘Academy Award’ winner (at the 2016 Singapore Racing Award), capped by his Singapore Horse of the Year, champion three-year-old and champion miler titles, earned on the tracks no doubt through the deeds of his three Group 1 wins among his haul of eight wins.
Still, Brown was always cautiously optimistic even when the son of Thorn Park was steamrolling them one race after another (he actually racked up his eight wins in a row), never complacent.
But now that Debt Collector has lost his last two races, including the US$6 million Group 1 Dubai Turf (1800m) at the end of March, Brown feels the pressure is on the others for a change.
Debt Collector and Michael Rodd, picture Singapore Turf Club
Debt Collector came out for his first barrier trial since his Dubai race on Thursday, running on late in his customary style for third.
To Brown, it was a perfect hit-out ahead of his first-up run in the Group 2 Stewards’ Cup (1400m) on May 28, the first Leg of his main assignment this year, the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge, but a winning comeback is far from a done deal.
“Things are different this time. They have the winning form, but we have to rebuild on it,” said Brown.
“He lost at his last race in Singapore, when Jupiter Gold beat him in third, and then he got thrashed in Dubai.
“And look at the quality of horses he will be running against this time in the Stewards’ Cup. Lim’s Cruiser is an outstanding horse, Infantry is really, really good and that Alibi is also in great form after his super second to Lim’s Cruiser in the Lion City Cup.
“But look, his prep has gone okay since he came back from Dubai. The Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge is what was planned for him from a long way out and he has come along very well.
“He trialled okay this morning. Michael (Rodd) dropped him back and just let him run on in the straight, it was just nice.
“But the others (Alibi, Infantry and Lim’s Cruiser were also in the same barrier trial) have also come on further and they also ran well in that trial.
“That’s why I think we will have to lift our game to beat them this time. We are clearly the underdogs this time.”
Rodd, who recently rode Debt Collector’s Barree stablemate Could Be Pearls (also prepared by Brown) to a disappointing sixth place behind Forever Young in the Group 1 Singapore Guineas – a race Debt Collector won last year – could not fault his bloke’s condition ahead of his return.
“I had to do a bit more on him today as it would be just that trial going into the Stewards’ Cup,” said the top jockey.
“I let him find his feet early and it’s only in the last furlong that I gave him a bit of a squeeze. He’s in good shape and we hope he goes well first-up.”