Five Singapore-bound horses made international headlines for the wrong reasons in January when they got caught up in a drug bust on a cargo plane in Argentina.
The shipment had to get off the plane and were cleared to take another flight after the Buenos Aires narcotics officers quickly found out they were the innocent victims of the 80kg cocaine seizure.
The second trip went on with much less drama, and Mandrake, the only raced horse among the five Argentinian-breds, Under Oath, Whiz Fizz, Pini Pons and Tesoro Pirata finally reached trainer James Peters’ yard at Kranji in February.
The English trainer, the horses’ new connections, a syndication headed by South African racing manager Justin Vermaak (from Greenstreet Stable who races Street Party, and Deadline Day not too long ago) under the Hardwicke Racing Club, had all been shellshocked by that most bizarre episode, but happy above all to have them in their midst, safe and sound.
Besides, chances are the horses were blissfully unaware of the misadventure they became inadvertently involved in!
The serious business of getting their preparation towards their Kranji debut could come underway, but unfortunately, Peters had to hang fire once more – and for even longer this time – when the COVID-19 outbreak brought the closure of racing for three months from April.
With the turmoil finally behind them when racing resumed on July 11, Mandrake will emerge as the first purchase from the syndication to hit the ground running at Kranji this Saturday. The Not For Sale five-year-old is entered in the $50,000 Class 4 Division 2 race over 1200m on turf.
“Mandrake is the only raced horse of the lot. He won one race over 1600m in Argentina and was Group placed; it was always him who would race first,” said Peters.
“We bought the others as yearlings, and Argentinian-breds don’t have the same preparation as those in Australia and New Zealand where they go through barrier trials and all that.
“It’s a slower process, but the four unraced horses have been coming along okay. I would say Under Oath has shown the most and he may possibly have his first race at the end of August.
“But I’m really happy with Mandrake. After the lockdown, I got him started and things went smoothly and he has trialled quite nicely, he showed a bit of speed in his trials.
“He’s a horse who will get more ground, but the six furlongs will be good for a start. I just want him to tell us where he is at.
“I just want to get my own gauge on him after that first 1200m race.”
Peters said the new venture with Argentinian-breds was an idea he had been thinking of, more so with the escalating costs of horses from more traditional sources.
“We wanted to start a new syndication that will try to get more people to buy horses. The whole world is doing it these days,” said ex-Kranji trainer Michael Freedman’s former right-hand man.
“In that way, we also hope to promote Singapore racing. Justin runs the group, he has contacts in South Africa, and brought in some South African clients.
“We also have some local guys who joined us. Justin has been to Argentina on numerous occasions and he’s the one who bought the four yearlings from a farm last August.
“There were some who were expensive, others cheaper, but he had a budget to work within. I have to say he bought very nice types for us.
“We thought of Argentina as we are looking for a bit of value. The Australian and New Zealand markets are so strong these days, and I think we’re getting better value in Argentina.
“Time will tell and touch wood, we get off to a great start tomorrow.”
Besides Mandrake, whose new Hardwicke claret and blue colours are a nod to Peters’ favourite football team West Ham, the stable focus will also be cast onto one of their rising stars, Siam Warrior in the day’s highlight, the $85,000 Class 2 race over 1100m.
The Exceed And Excel six-year-old actually put in his worst performance at his last start on March 20 when he faded to last in a Class 2 race over 1400m, albeit his jockey Juan Paul van der Merwe did not continue to ride him out inside the concluding stages, sensing his action was a little off.
Peters said the Middle Kingdom Stable-owned galloper actually pulled up well, and was probably just tired of racing.
“I think he had come to the end of his preparation. He raced flat,” he said.
“He won three in a row, he got tired in the end, and we decided to give him a break, which as we know, got extended during the lockdown.
“He is in good form and I hope he goes well first-up.”
The four-time winner (1100m to 1200m) trialled once on July 16 when he ran on strongly under champion jockey Vlad Duric to run a length second to Surpass Natural.
South African jockey Ryan Munger will jump on Siam Warrior for the first time this Saturday while it’s French jockey Marc Lerner who takes the ride on Mandrake.
– Singapore Turf Club