Forever Young bounced back to form in the best possible way by winning his second silverware in the $300,000 Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy (1800m) on Sunday.
Back in May, the US-bred three-year-old sprang a first mini-upset when he lowered the boom of the more hightly-rated Countofmontecristo and Jupiter Gold in the third Leg of the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge, the Group 1 Singapore Guineas (1600m).
But Forever Young was a pale shadow of himself at his return from a six-week break, beating two home in a Benchmark 83 race over 1400m he was widely expected to dominate.
Totally stumped by that ordinary run from his stable star, trainer Kuah Cheng Tee took a while to pick up the pieces, but decided to put a line through that run and give the Hong Kong-owned gelding a chance to make amends.
Forever Young (Benny Woodworth) proves hard to mow down in the Chairman's Trophy.
After Forever Young came back all clear from vet scopes and scans, Kuah set him for the Chairman’s Trophy, a race he had always had designs on, mainly because of the distance.
“I always believed this horse can run up to 1800m. Maybe next year, he can even go up to 2000m,” said the Singaporean second-season handler.
“After his first-up defeat, I couldn’t find anything wrong with him. The only thing I could think of was he was ridden too quiet.
“He needs to go forward, and Benny (Woodworth) really understands this horse. That day when he ran badly, Benny was just as lost as me, but today, he told me he had only one plan – go forward.
“We didn’t really look at the speedmap, he just knew he had to be in front to give the horse the best chance of winning, and he was right.
“I have to say I thought he was almost gone in the last 200m when I saw all the better horses like War Affair and Quechua finishing hard behind him and also because we were over the Long Course, but he’s such a tough horse.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect this to happen, but it’s happened, it’s amazing. I never lost confidence in him even after his last defeat, and here I have to thank two vets, Dr Kieran Finn and Dr Joanne Tan for looking after him.
“I also thank his owner Mr Wong Chi Tat for his support. He is here today along with his friends from Hong Kong and it’s great to see them get another big win after the Guineas.
“If you ask me which win means more to me, I would say this one even if it’s a Group 2 race and the Guineas was a Group 1 race. Here, he was running against the top horses and he beat them, no doubt by receiving weight from them.
“It’s true that as a lightweight chance with only 53.5kgs on his back today, he had an advantage on them. If it had been on equal weights, he wouldn’t have won.
“I may give him just a short break after today, and maybe look at the Committee’s Prize as a race for him.”
The Group 3 Committee’s Prize is a handicap race run over 1600m on September 17.
The victorious team: (from left) owner Wong Chi Tat, trainer Kuah Cheng Tee and jockey Benny Woodworth.
Kuah, himself a former jockey, also heaped praise on Woodworth for his perfect handling of the horse he affectionately nicknames “Lion Heart”.
The popular Malaysian jockey put his battle plan to execution from the word go. Taking advantage of his natural gate speed, the son of Run Away And Hide stormed ahead unrivalled in the early speed battle, easily rolling to the front without breaking a sweat.
War Affair (Craig Grylls) ended up tucked away in second spot on the rails while Time Odyssey (Barend Vorster) and race-favourite Quechua (Vlad Duric) rode shotgun along the first two in that order.
Blue Swede (John Powell) and Storm Troops (Nooresh Juglall) were travelling somewhere in mid-division while the usual backmarkers Well Done (Manoel Nunes) and Song To The Moon (Oscar Chavez) brought up the rear.
Upfront, Forever Young ($65) was still holding sway, and it was becoming increasingly clear that the challengers might have their work cut out as the memories of his all-the-way win in the Singapore Guineas flashed back.
At the top of the straight, Woodworth smartly slipped a bit more rein to Forever Young, while ever so gently narrowing the rails gap, effectively shutting out any passage for War Affair.
Behind, the swoopers were jostling for their runs. Quechua was chipping away but not big enough chunks off Forever Young, War Affair was still trapped while Well Done had elected for the wider route, but the 2016 Singapore Derby winner’s turn of foot clearly lacked his former zip.
The one who was the hardest done by had to be Storm Troops. After a smothered run in behind runners, the Orpen six-year-old was still unable to break free when it was high time to get on his bike, with Absolute Miracle (Olivier Placais) not rolling off and keeping him hemmed in.
The Ricardo Le Grange-trained galloper finally came out with a wet sail once he was in the clear, but Forever Young had all of them snookered as he scraped in by half-a-length from Storm Troops, who beat his better-fancied stablemate Quechua by a short head.
Hardcore fans of War Affair would moan their hero was the hard-luck story of the race when he was denied a run on the inside at the point of the turn, and looked a little intimidated racing in tight quarters inside the last 250m. The O’Reilly seven-year-old did extend once the gap between Forever Young and Quechua widened a little more to finish fourth another short head away with Well Done in fifth place another three parts of a length away. The winning time was 1min 48.43secs for the 1800m on the Long Course.
Woodworth said he could sense the mad stampede rumbling behind him at the 300m, but he could only throw everything at his mount, hoping the winning post would arrive in time.
“When I got to lead and slow up the pace, and nobody came to chase us, I was quite confident,” he said.
“All I had to was reserve and reserve as much energy as I could. They were chasing hard and I could feel the strong horses coming from behind, but my horse fought back really well.
“I think this horse is suited by longer distances. When he runs over shorter trips, they all push to the front and it’s harder for him to pick them up.
“I’ve won two big races with this horse now. It’s clearly been one of my best seasons in Singapore.”
With that fourth win from only eight starts, Forever Young has now brought his stakes earnings past the $530,000 mark for his owner Mr Wong Chi Tat.