Newcomer Dinghu Mountain reproduced his smart Sydney form with a slashing debut win at Kranji on Friday night.
The former Chris Waller-trained galloper’s handy record of three wins (1100m to 1400m) in New South Wales, including two at Sydney metropolitan tracks, not to mention his $725,000 price tag at the Inglis Easter Yearling sale in 2014 certainly made for an interesting first-starter for trainer Shane Baertschiger in the $80,000 Class 3 race over 1200m.
But to score first-up in open company against seasoned campaigners still remained an arduous task, even if his two barrier trials on local soil had been quite pleasing (second and third).
A last-minute riding change does not make the job any easier either. With Vlad Duric unable to make the 54kgs, Baertschiger went for a jockey he very seldom uses, Benny Woodworth, and it proved to be a winning combo.
Jumping smartly from barrier No 3, Dinghu Mountain was not bustled up as Dragon Spirit (John Sundradas) and Conflight (Oscar Chavez) set a solid clip that soon caused the field to string out.
With more galloping space suddenly opening up on his inside, Dinghu Mountain ($27) was able to tuck onto the rails ahead of $19 favourite Conilad (Glen Boss), benefitting from a ground-saving run all the way through from that point onwards.
The Snitzel four-year-old did not go around any runners as the field fanned out across the track in the home straight, waiting for $390 roughie Dragon Spirit to roll off the rails to dive through.
That gap did not quite materialise when Dragon Spirit shifted out and shifted back in under pressure, but the Group 1-winning Woodworth showed plenty of pluck as he drove Dinghu Mountain straight through the narrow breach towards a clear passage to the post.
Conilad, who was resuming from a three-month break, made his presence felt when he came testing Dinghu Mountain on the outside, but his dash lacked a bit of sharpness. Dinghu Mountain showed no signs of letting up as he kept going to score with 1 ½ lengths to spare from Conilad with Winning Man (A’Isisuhairi Kasim) third another head away.
The winning time was 1min 9.92secs for the 1200m on the Long Course.
Baertschiger said he was not too worried by all the reports about the Lai Chan Cheong-owned galloper being a wet tracker.
“I know some people were worried about him winning all his three races on soft tracks, but if you do your homework, he did run second on a good track at Rosehill,” said the Australian conditioner.
“He has trained and trialled very well here. He was a little caught behind the other horse but when it stayed open on the inside, he went through and scored a nice win.
“Benny rode him very well. It’s great to have the in-form jockey on board, he was on top of the pile, anyway.”
Woodworth may not get the opportunities that some of the leading expat jockeys enjoy at Kranji, but whenever he throws his leg over a good sort, he rarely lets the chance go begging. And there was no better example than his sterling frontrunning ride aboard outsider Forever Young in the Group 1 Singapore Guineas (1600m) last Sunday.
The versatile Malaysian jockey was again at his supreme best on the pick-up ride, switching from his usual continental riding style to a more Australian style to the same winning effect.
“The horse travelled very well, but was reluctant to take the gap in the straight,” said Woodworth.
“When he finally went through, he kicked on very strongly. He is definitely of Class 3 quality, and will keep improving here.”
When asked how he has celebrated his Guineas victory all week. Woodworth straightaway showed his cheeky side.
“I’ve been singing Forever Young all week!” he said with a wide grin.
Forever Young is a popular ballad by German 80s synthpop band Alphaville.