Bastille Day has certainly become a day to remember for Olivier Placais, but not necessarily for patriotic reasons, even if nobody can fault the French jockey for not knowing how to sing La Marseillaise with his fist on his chest.
No, the special significance is neither derived from the Bleus taking on Croatia in the World Cup final later tonight.
Besides, Placais is a self-proclaimed football non-fan, though the occasional futsal player would not mind seeing France lift a second Cup after 1998.
Higher Soul (Olivier Placais) comes from behind to take out Race 7, picture Singapore Turf Club
“To be honest, I don’t follow football. It makes no difference to me,” said the 33-year-old Angers native and six-time Swiss champion jockey.
The reason the French National Day has in the last two years been a red-letter day to Placais is simply in relation to his riding career, sacrebleu!
Last year on July 14, Placais returned a winner from a three-month suspension aboard Super Fortune, who was scoring the first of what was to become a prolific association between the pair (five wins).
On Sunday (okay it was one day after the 14th), the former Jean Desbordes (of 1993 Arc winner Urban Sea fame) apprentice jockey had a full book over the bumper 11-race programme, pulling off an outstanding strike rate of 45% by turning five of them into winners – Turf Princess, Fame Star, Higher Soul, Makanani and a first Group 1 winner to boot in the Emirates Singapore Derby (see earlier report) with Jupiter Gold, the last three coming from one of his main supporters these days, Japanese trainer Hideyuki Takaoka.
“My focus is more on my career, and to ride five winners today and win the Derby, my first Group 1 win, that is just so special,” said Placais.
“Even if France wins the final tonight, it won’t beat that Derby day, that’s for sure. But being a Frenchman, of course, I want them to win.
“Things were just amazing today. I knew I had a good book of rides, and thought I might ride two or three, but five, it’s unbelievable.
“It could have been six with a bit of luck. Absolute Miracle (Race 9) could have won, but he didn’t have a clear run and finished a close second to Curvature, who is a very good horse.
“I’ve ridden five winners once, and it was at a small meeting in Switzerland. I rode through the card as there were only five races.
“Here, I had a few trebles, but I’ve never ridden four winners or more. So that is a day I won’t forget.”
Makanani (Olivier Placais) lords over her rivals in the Class 3 race on Sunday, picture Singapore Turf Club
While the first two pins of the five-timer were punters’ elects (Lee Freedman’s Turf Princess was at $11 while John O’Hara’s Fame Star was at $9), both the Masa Otani-owned (Big Valley Stable) Higher Soul (Race 7) and Makanani (Race 10) were also well in the market at $39, while Jupiter Gold was the $34 second favourite in the Derby capacity field of 16.
The two favourites and Makanani (easiest winner at four lengths) pretty much gave Placais an armchair ride, but aboard Takaoka’s Jupiter Gold and seven-year-old mare Higher Soul, The Conductor, as he is affectionately known, was seen bringing out his finest acts.
Higher Soul, a Japanese-bred daughter of Higher Game looked to have her job cut out at the top of the straight in the $45,000 Hello Melbourne Stakes, a Class 4 Non Premier race over 1600m, when race-leader Northern Knight (Ng Choon Kiat) kicked clear, but Placais just has this knack of getting his horses to lengthen up once that flailing arm starts to swing into action.
Longshot Murdoch (Zy Nor Azman) was also chiming in to inject more intrigue in the final 100m, but Higher Soul was not to be denied her day in the sun as she greeted the judge with 1 ¼ lengths to spare from Murdoch.
Northern Knight yielded ground late, but did well to hold on for the minors a short head away. The winning time was 1min 35.05secs for the 1600m on the Long Course.
Placais is known to be one of the hardest-working jockeys at Kranji, but you can rest assured he will be back the next morning riding another batch of 10-12 horses as he does.
No doubt, not everyday will be like this special Sunday, but he is not the sort to rest on his laurels. With Makanani’s thumping win in the $80,000 Hello Helsinki Stakes, a Class 3 race over 1600m, the hungry jockey can set his sights on another big prize further down the road.
“She won impressively today. The last time she was scratched at the barriers because she went crazy and I have no idea why as she’s never done this before,” said Placais of the Japanese-bred four-year-old mare by Black Tide.
“She passed two barrier tests, and she was perfect. Today she had an ideal run in transit.
“The last time, I dropped her back and put her to sleep, but today, I rode her a bit more positive.
“I had to keep her on her toes in the first 200m and even before the home turn. She took a while to ping, but that’s probably because she needs more ground.
“It’s only in the last 150m that she really went into overdrive and she was just too good in the end.
“On that run, she will be a strong contender for the Gold Cup, but there is still a long way to go.”
The Group 1 Dester Singapore Gold Cup (2000m) will be run on November 11. Takaoka has won four of them (when then staged over 2200m), three times with El Dorado (2008, 2009 and 2011) and Better Life (2012), but Placais has yet to claim one.