Bang-in-form trainer Michael Clements picked up only place cheques at the recent big-race weekend, but still has one good bullet left for the Group 2 Stewards’ Cup (1400m) next Sunday.
The Zimbabwean-born trainer, who currently has an embarrassment of riches under his barn roof, thought he had at least one good chance of adding a Group silverware to his trophy cabinet on Sunday - the unbeaten Countofmontecristo in the Group 1 Singapore Guineas (1600m), but the second-favourite could only finish third to longshot Forever Young.
Two races earlier, Hip Hip Hooray also took home the same cut of the $200,000 purse at stake in the Group 3 Saas Fee Stakes (1400m) by running third, but unlike Countofmontecristo, it was a totally unexpected windfall from the $765 rank-outsider.
Next Sunday, it will be the turn of another rising star in Clements’ stable to have a stab at Group glory, Alibi, a horse who has been Group material for a while but has yet to break his duck, despite three creditable attempts.
The five-time winner ran second to Spanish Bay in last year’s Saas Fee Stakes, fifth as the favourite (with Joao Moreira up) in the Group 2 EW Barker Trophy (1400m), and by far his best performance to-date, a luckless second to Lim’s Cruiser in the Group 1 Lion City Cup (1200m) last month.
With his regular partner Vlad Duric committed to Wimbledon in the premier sprint race, the ride was handed to Glen Boss, and it is again the triple Melbourne Cup-winning jockey who will take the ride in the Stewards’ Cup.
Boss rode the Darci Brahma entire in a barrier trial on Thursday that also featured some of his forthcoming Stewards’ Cup rivals, namely Debt Collector, Lim’s Cruiser and Infantry. Whether it is a good omen remains to be seen, but it was Alibi who finished the best (second to Preditor) after settling close to the lead in a one-off position.
Singapore Horse of the Year Debt Collector ran on late to snatch third place from Infantry while Lim’s Cruiser just jogged at the back to run last.
“He was full of running throughout the trial,” said Clements.
“I think his last two runs have brought him on. Two runs back, he won and at his last race in the Lion City Cup, he ran a super second.
“Today, he jumped well out of the gates and he ran a really pleasing trial. I couldn’t be happier with it.”
Clements said that ideally, he envisages Alibi to tackle all three Legs of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge, but he will take it step by step.
“He will definitely run in the first two Legs and hopefully, he will go to the last Leg, too,” he said.
Alibi has never ventured beyond 1400m in his 10 runs at Kranji, but Clements has always held the view he would get over more ground, even if the 1 ¼ mile of the Group 1 Emirates Singapore Derby may seem like a big leap of faith at this stage.
“He’s done well over 1400m, but I think he can get the mile,” said Clements.
“He has still not raced beyond 1400m but I don’t think it is an issue. He’s come back a stronger and more mature horse after his break.”
After a slow start to the 2017 season – which is not all that uncommon for him – Clements has hit the ground running with a bevy of quality horses coming out of his stable like clockwork.
First, there was Countofmontecristo, then Starshine, but unfortunately the promising galloper collapsed and died at his next start. Alibi then made a resounding winning return, followed by new kids on the block Tannhauser, Leon and more recently, Chopin’s Fantaisie to continue his brilliant patch of form.
Currently seventh on 21 winners, Clements described the current season as the best he has had since moving to Singapore in 1998. To the two-time Zimbabwean champion trainer, he still wakes up at 5am every day to see his horses work, but the one thing that makes this season different from the 18 previous seasons is his greater involvement at the place it all begins – the sales.
“It’s definitely the best season I’ve had since I’ve been training here,” he said.
“Mind you, for the first three months, I had around seven wins, but it was only three horses who were winning, Countofmontecristo, Golden Tomahawk and Starshine. The rest were taking a long time to hit form.
“It’s only from April onwards, the other horses started to come together, and we’ve been getting winners on a regular basis since.
“I’ve been training my horses pretty much the same way I’ve always trained them all these years, but I think going to the sales and buying my own horses without relying on agents have been the key to my success this year.
“I still need agents to do the groundwork for me, but I will go there personally and screen through the ones they recommend, and from what I see with my own eyes, I can decide who has ability and who doesn’t.
“If the horse is a dud, then I can only blame myself. But it’s worked pretty well for us so far.”