Debt Collector, Singapore’s undisputed champion of the 2016 season stepped out for his first barrier trial in almost a year on Thursday morning, looking like a “brand new horse”.
Trainer Cliff Brown said the Thorn Park six-year-old had filled out and looked stronger, a new physique which he hoped would translate into a return to his best, if not better.
The eight-time Kranji winner, including three at Group 1 level, left Kranji in December to spend five months at Newhaven Park in Australia, just chilling and getting the rigours of racing off his mind. He returned to Brown’s stables in May via quarantine, after which he was slowly reconditioned into a racehorse towards his comeback race, next Sunday’s $200,000 Group 3 Jumbo Jet Trophy (1400m).
The Victorian-based Barree Stable-owned gelding won that race in 2016, also first-up from a break.
But the lead-up was different then. He had been backed off after breezing through the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge, winning the last two Legs, including the Group 1 Singapore Guineas (1600m), in superlative style.
The interruption is longer this time, the horse is two years older – and the residual fitness from paddock frolics is not quite the same.
Debt Collector does not usually contest the finish in barrier trials, but regular partner Michael Rodd noticeably gave him a squeeze at the 250m this time. Glimpses of that dash of old were revived when he responded with a short sharp sprint on the outside to finish locked together with Circuit Land (Vlad Duric) and Mr Fantastic (Barend Vorster).
The photo finish showed that Circuit Land had prevailed by a short head from Mr Fantastic with Debt Collector third another nose away.
In his usual nonchalant way, Brown gave the hit-out a nod of approval, but added he would be surprised if win No 9 was at the receiving end first-up after such a protracted break.
“He’s fine. As you know, he hasn’t won for a long time (February 2017, first-up after winning the Group 1 Raffles Cup four months earlier),” said the Australian handler.
“He’s come back good after that stay in Australia, but he’s still a bit fat. He won’t win the Jumbo Jet.
“No doubt, he’s changed a lot. He’s a lot bigger and stronger and you can see it.
“He trialled good today, but there’s a big difference between a barrier trial and actual match-race conditions. But the blow will do him good.”
Rodd said that he was a little more demanding that usual in Thursday’s pipe-opener because Debt Collector was probably more ring-rusty this time, and D-day is only 10 days away.
“He has come back a different horse after his spell in Australia. He’s bigger and we’ll see how overweight he will be next Sunday,” said the Australian jockey who has ridden Debt Collector at 15 of his 18 starts for seven of his eight wins.
“He is physically more developed, though. Fingers crossed, he progresses day by day and will be presented as close as possible to his best next week.
“I still think he will need the run. He had to do a bit more this time, and that’s because we don’t have the luxury of another prep.
“It’s going to be a hot race, but he will be hitting the line for sure. He will carry some weight, but he carries me every day, anyway!”
Brown and Rodd had another resuming Group winner on the trial roster on Thursday – Group 2 Singapore Three-Year-Old Classic (1400m) winner Mister Yeoh.
Also Australian-owned like Debt Collector, Mister Yeoh was in the next trial and ran third, just over four lengths off the winner Noah From Goa (Nooresh Juglall), a performance which did not really have the unflappable Brown much enthused.
“It was an okay trial. I thought he could have run a bit better,” he said.
“He will run in a Class 2 race over 1200m next Sunday. It’s always a big step-up for a three-year-old who just turned four to take.
“It’s a whole different caper, but he more than deserves to take that huge leap. We’ll see how he goes.”
Mister Yeoh was actually thrown in at the deep end at his last start when he skipped the third Leg of the 3YO series, the Singapore Guineas, but connections took a punt by running him in the Group 1 Lion City Cup (1200m) on the same day (May 26) instead. Though well-backed, he could only run seventh to Lim’s Cruiser.
Rodd, who has ridden Mister Yeoh at all his four starts for two wins, said the son of Wanted was another horse he had some time for.
“Mister Yeoh is an honest lovely horse. He travelled just behind the speed in today’s trial,” he said.
“They went quick in front, and he was able to track up behind. He got a bit left behind when they took off, but it was still a nice blowout.
“He’s good and fresh. He’s a ripping horse and finishes off his races very well.
“To me, he’s more of a sprinter-miler type. We will aim him at big races as I think there is another feature race for him one day.”
– Singapore Turf Club