Trainer Cliff Brown is as usual keeping a level head as another big race looms up this weekend, the Patron’s Bowl.
The $500,000 Group 1 race over the mile is the second pin of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge, the first Leg of which, the Group 2 Stewards’ Cup on May 28 saw the Australian handler’s stable star Debt Collector run fourth.
The 2016 Singapore Horse of the Year will saddle up again, along with a stable companion this time around, Elite Excalibur, a recent transfer from trainer Steven Burridge - and who shares something in common with Debt Collector – they both recently raced in Dubai.
Elite Excalibur will be Cliff Brown's second Patron's Bowl runner this Sunday, picture Singapore Turf Club
The Stewards’ Cup was the first local outing for Debt Collector since his unplaced run in the US$6 million Group 1 Dubai Turf (1800m) at the end of March. Even Brown thought that after two defeats (he also ran third to Jupiter Gold before he flew to Dubai, ending an amazing run of eight wins on the trot, including three at Group 1 level), he might need the run in the Stewards’ Cup - and clearly, he did.
With regular partner Michael Rodd up, Debt Collector was in his familiar zone as he began looping up the field from last to be within striking distance at the top of the straight. But that famous electric turn of foot which has annihilated many rivals before was not quite there this time as he peaked on his run to settle for fourth place, two lengths off the winner Alibi.
“He blew out, but he still ran a great race,” said Brown.
“We knew whatever he did he would improve from that run. Is he any better? I don’t know, but he’s well and we will find out on Sunday.
“He will gallop tomorrow, and so will Elite Excalibur, but separately. They’re both fit and well and that last piece of work should bring them on nicely for Sunday.”
Though he does not know Elite Excalibur as well, he was still able to get a win out of him at his first run for him in a Class 3 race over 1400m on May 14. But Brown certainly knows the former Coolmore horse known as River Wild has competed at “Elite” level for Sydney premier trainer Gai Waterhouse.
The son of Fastnet Rock boasts three wins there (Kembla Grange, Randwick and Rosehill), but more notably, albeit in defeat, ran fourth to Palentino, less than two lengths astern, in the Group 1 Australian Guineas (1600m) last year and fifth to Tarzino in the Group 1 Rosehill Guineas (2000m) two weeks later.
“It was always the plan to skip the Stewards’ Cup and go straight to the Patron’s Bowl,” he said.
“The mile is a more suitable distance, and also, it would have been two weeks between runs had he gone for the Stewards’ Cup. It was five weeks to the Patron’s Bowl, and we went for that option instead.
“He trialled last Thursday. It was nothing outstanding, but it was okay, he works well on the tracks and I guess he brings his best to the races.
“No doubt, he has very good Sydney Group 1 form, not to mention, he’s run against some quality horses in Dubai, but he will still have to lift against those on Sunday.”
With Elite Excalibur’s regular partner Rodd already committed to Debt Collector, Brown has booked Vlad Duric for the ride on the Elite Performance Stable banner in the Patron’s Bowl.
Brown has yet to claim the Patron’s Bowl in 11 years of training at Kranji, but does boast one win in the third and final Leg of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge, the Emirates Singapore Derby (2000m) with Clint in 2011. Both Debt Collector and Elite Excalibur are being aimed at the Derby.