Dream Derby day for Placais and Takaoka with Jupiter Gold

A totally rejuvenated Jupiter Gold defied all the skepticism whether he was a genuine 1800m horse with a scintillating win in the $1.15 million Group 1 Emirates Singapore Derby on Sunday.

No doubt, his lead-up to the third and final Leg of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge – which was the first time shortened from 2000m down to 1800m - had not been as remarkable as Jolie’s Shinju (2009) and Better Life (2013), his trainer Hideyuki Takaoka’s previous two Derby winners, but it has certainly been less orthodox to say the least.

The Japanese handler had been testing the former ridgling by Congrats over more ground at his last campaign, but the results – mostly at Group level – had not been the most taking. 

Jupiter Gold (Olivier Placais) stamps his class in the Emirates Singapore Derby, picture Singapore Turf Club

Ninth in the Group 1 Raffles Cup (1800m) and 11th in the Group 1 Dester Singapore Gold Cup (2200m) were just two of the ordinary results that had connections at their wit’s end.

That saying form is temporary, class is permanent was starting to sound irrelevant. Even when he was dropped back to the mile, the spark was still missing.

Then came the turning point on June 10 when Jupiter Gold was dropped sharply back in distance to 1200m at Kranji Stakes A level after a six-week freshen-up. Not only was the spark back with a slashing win against some of the best sprinters in the land, it would eventually lead to fireworks in the one that Takaoka and owner Kaz Hosaka had thought had been all but snuffed out – the Holy Grail itself, the Singapore Derby.

The doubts still lingered after Jupiter Gold subsequently ran third to the Mark Walker-trained Elite Invincible in the second Leg, the Group 1 Giovanni Racing Charity Bowl (1600m) a fortnight later. He was given every conceivable chance by new partner Olivier Placais, but just could not up the ante to get the upperhand on Elite Invincible.

However, Placais still oozed confidence his horse or rather gelding (new sex as a result of another bid at the end of last year to bring back his winning flair, especially given his increasingly coltish behaviour) could stay the 1 1/8 mile – and win.

Contrary to conservative wisdom, drawing marble one was actually not one of the main motivating factors. The French rider was wary of the danger of getting cluttered up on the fence behind a few slow customers, but he needed not have worried.

After jumping on terms, Jupiter Gold found himself in fifth on the rails with acres of galloping space around after speedy customers Lim’s Regard (Ryan Curatolo) and Yulong Honor (Wong Chin Chuen) went hand over fist in the first 300m, so much so they had quickly put a big space on Jupiter Gold.

There was still one runner ahead, the identity of which gave Placais a chuckle – $14 favourite Elite Invincible (Vlad Duric), unlikely to be a fading conveyance when the chips are down in the home straight, but one he would still have to beat.

At the 750m mark, Placais decided it was time to stoke up his mount, who promptly tacked onto the back of Elite Invincible, mindful he does not give him the slip.

The bidder (won the first two Legs, the Stewards’ Cup and Charity Bowl) to a first-ever 4YO Challenge clean sweep indeed had history rewritten all over when he effortlessly cruised up to the weakening Lim’s Regard to literally go for broke at the 450m mark.

But Jupiter Gold had snapped at his heels as he crept up around horses at the point of the turn to give chase under Placais’ vigorous guidance – a carbon-copy of the Charity Bowl strategy as they came almost on level terms with the same horse at the same spot.

There was to be no spluttering engine this time. Jupiter Gold shot past, but Lim’s Magic (Glen Boss) could be the third party to have the last say as he squeezed his way in between the pair for a three-way battle, but the day belonged to Jupiter Gold, Placais and Takaoka.

Lim’s Magic died on his run, Elite Invincible fought his way back, but they could only bow down to the supremacy of a horse who has been remoulded back in tip-top shape by an indisputable master conditioner of stayers and Derby winners in tandem with a high-calibre jockey riding at the peak of his powers.

The unlikely pair, who only became a regular fixture this season, had been scooping winners by the spades (10 thus far), but their Sunday haul of three winners (Higher Soul and Makanani also won) including the Derby triumph was the cherry on the top nobody had really seen coming.

Jupiter Gold hit the line first in advance of Elite Invincible by 1 ¼ lengths with Lim’s Magic a gallant third another short head away. Only Win (Alan Munro) did look a fleeting chance at the 200m pole as he came with a threatening move on the outside, but had to settle for fourth place another head away.

Countofmontecristo (Troy See) came from well back to run fifth, but another gap of more than four lengths away while Walker’s other well-fancied runner Kingsman (Craig Grylls) just did not stay, as feared by his trainer. He ran 11th.

Jupiter Gold clocked the smart time of 1min 46.34secs for the mile on the Long Course, equalling the class record set by War Affair in 2014, only 0.03 second outside the eight-year-old course record established by Superb.

Winning team poses for the camera with four Emirates stewardesses by their sides: (from left) jockey Olivier Placais, stable representative Mr Chua Chai Lee and trainer Hideyuki Takaoka.

Takaoka is a man of few words, but though understated, his joy after such a big day at the office was palpable. He was at a four-timer as he had earlier also won with Masurao in combination with champion apprentice jockey Wong Chin Chuen.

“This is the best day of my life,” said the 62-year-old trainer who has been in Singapore since 2002.

“Four winners, and a third Derby. I couldn’t have hoped for a better day than this.

“I’m very happy Jupiter Gold won the Derby. He’s finally shown he was still the good horse we always believed he was.

“The owners and myself have been frustrated with his loss of form, but he’s come back in form this year and to cap it all off, he is now a Derby winner.

“Olivier is a hard-working and honest rider. We’ve had a lot of success together, we work hard together, and he gave the horse a great ride.

“He was very confident before the race, probably more than me, and he’s delivered on it.”

Perhaps the clichéd “c’est magnifique!” would be appropriate to describe Placais’ sizzler of a day. The 33-year-old was also ringing up his first Group 1 (both career-wise and in Singapore) winner, but he also went on to complete a personal best at Kranji with five winners as he had also won with Turf Princess and Fame Star earlier (see other report). All-up for the weekend, he rode seven winners as Friday night saw him boot home a riding double aboard Silkino and Danger Zone.

The six-time Swiss champion jockey, whose previous biggest wins were two Group 3 wins in France with the Sheikh Mohamed-owned and Henri Pantall-trained Jomana and domestically, the Group 2 Queen Elizabeth II Cup with the Bruce Marsh-trained Race Ahead in 2010, has leapt over third-placed Nooresh Juglall (who drew a blank on Friday and Sunday) to sit level with Michael Rodd on 36 winners, but back in third on a countback for seconds.

Duric, whose brave defeat aboard Elite Invincible saw him having to fight another day to win a first Singapore Derby, still sits on top on 43 winners despite also returning empty-handed on Sunday.

“Actually, I was having quite a difficult season earlier, but the last two months have just been fantastic,” said Placais who has also been plagued by injuries from race falls earlier in the year.

“This horse (Jupiter Gold) was just perfect today. I know he was not in the best form, but running him in a sprint has woken him up.

“Many people thought he didn’t have the distance, but for me, I was very confident he could run 1800m. I had to ride him positive but not aggressive, especially from barrier one.

“During the race, when I saw Vlad’s horse in front of me, I told myself it doesn’t get any better than this.

“Michael’s (Rodd) horse (Magnificent Gold) was on my outside, but he didn’t have the energy to keep me on the inside at the 600m.

“Mr Takaoka has really helped me this year and I have to thank him, and the owner as well. I work very well with Mr Takaoka and we do a good job together.

“This is my first Group 1 win. It feels like I’m just dreaming, it’s amazing. I’m very happy.”

With that memorable win in the Singapore Derby, Jupiter Gold has now seen his total prizemoney more than double to around $1.2 million for Mr Hosaka.