Irish import Elite Invincible scored a hard-fought win in the $500,000 Group 2 Stewards’ Cup (1400m) to cap a memorable day for jockey Vlad Duric on Sunday.
Not only the win in the first Leg of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge was bringing up a hat-trick of wins for the current leader in the Singapore jockey’s premiership, but the day also saw him strike the 400-win mark one race earlier aboard Mr Hanks (see other report).
The reigning Singapore champion jockey could also give himself a pat on the back for having pulled the right rein, as he is also the regular partner of Tannhauser, who finished 10th for Daniel Moor.
Elite Invincible (Vlad Duric) just pips Curvature (Craig Grylls, obscured) to land the spoils in the Stewards' Cup, picture Singapore Turf Club
A narrow runner-up to the other “Elite”, but Cliff Brown-trained Elite Excalibur in the Group 3 Committee’s Prize (1600m) at his last start, the Mark Walker-trained Elite Invincible ($25) went one better this time, but it had to take all of Duric’s sheer power in the saddle to topple a very resilient Curvature (Craig Grylls) right on the line.
After sweeping past race-leader Paparazzi (John Powell) at the top of the straight, Curvature and Elite Invincible staged a stirring two-horse war for the best part of the straight.
A very tenacious Curvature, whose China Horse Club colours made history in America the day before when Justify became the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown after landing the Belmont Stakes, did look like he might just hang in there, but Duric literally lifted Elite Invincible inside the last 50 yards to gain the verdict by a neck.
It was in the nick of time, too, because a few more strides later, Lim’s Magic (Glen Boss) who was storming home, could have upstaged him on the outside, but had to in the end settle for third place another three-quarter length away.
Odds-on favourite Countofmontecristo (William Pike) lurked a few lengths astern all the while, but stayed rather one-paced inside the last two furlongs to run fifth, just under 1 ½ lengths off the winner. The winning time was 1min 21.73secs for the 1400m on the Short Course.
Duric was lapping up the moment as another big-race silverware was heading for his mantelpiece, especially as he had to make the always gut-wrenching choice between two good horses.
“Tannhauser is also one of my favourites, but I felt this one could go further than the first Leg, up to the mile and more,” said Duric.
“He also has that X-factor, even if what you see is what you get with him. He will never win by four to five lengths, but he is a real fighter.
“I’ve won a couple of feature races for Mark, but I don’t ride a lot for Aloysius Chew (Elite Performance Stable). I remember I thought I won one for him in the Patron’s Bowl, but we didn’t win.”
Owner Mr Aloysius Chew, jockey Vlad Duric and trainer Mark Walker all smiles after Elite Invincible's triumph, picture Singapore Turf Club
Duric was referring to Elite Excalibur’s agonisingly close short-head defeat to Alibi in last year’s Group 1 Patron’s Bowl, now known as the Charity Bowl, but which is still the second Leg of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge, which Elite Invincible will now be set for in two weeks’ time – an interval which had Walker unsure about the ramifications.
Originally set at the customary three weeks between Legs, the Charity Bowl was brought forward by a week after the third and final Leg, the Group 1 Emirates Singapore Derby (1800m) was brought earlier by a week to July 15, while the Stewards’ Cup remained unchanged.
“The second Leg is in two weeks’ time, which is shorter than the three weeks we normally get,” said Walker.
“It’s a bit of a catch-22 situation. We don’t want him to be too ready for today as we want him to improve for the next run, but he’s probably ready for the 1600m already.
“That’s why it took the whole length of the straight to get there. He is definitely looking at the second and third Legs now.”
With that fourth win from seven starts, Elite Invincible, a four-year-old by Archarcharch, has now won more than $460,000 in stakes earnings, while he was already the winner of a handy amount of US$110,899 at his previous bases when known as Qatar Man, mainly from his one win (1600m) at Kempton Park and placings in Dubai when prepared by Marco Botti.