The Singapore Derby trail didn’t quite pan out as expected for Big Hearted, but trainer Michael Clements said the Singapore Gold Cup winner has caught up and hit top gear when it mattered.
In four starts this year (after resuming from his Gold Cup triumph in November), Big Hearted has added only one more stick to his record, at his second-up run in a Kranji Stakes B race over 1400m in April.
The son of Hallowed Crown then ran a lacklustre ninth to Minister in the Group 1 Kranji Mile (1600m) before being backed off. Freshened up, he ran a closing second for Vlad Duric in the Group 2 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) on July 3 for that telltale sign he was cherry-ripe for his ultimate goal, the $400,000 Group 1 Singapore Derby (1800m) this Sunday.
“The Derby had all along been his target. The 1800m suits him better,” said Clements.
“He’s at level weights with all four-year-olds and he ran good last time over the 1600m of the Stewards’ Cup.
“Just as well because it’s taken a bit of time for him to come to hand this prep.
“His first runs were just okay, but he’s coming to his best at the right time.”
Clements said the Stewards’ Cup worked out as the perfect Singapore Derby springboard even if it came in defeat at the hands of the one likely to start as favourite on Sunday, Mr Malek, 1 ¼ lengths off.
“I was happy with that run even if he could have run closer. He had to go through shifty ground and Vlad said he misstrode in the straight,” he said.
“But I don’t think he would have beaten Mr Malek even without that. Mr Malek was a soft winner.”
The extra 200m gives Clements every reason to believe the seven-time winner (over seven different combinations of tracks and distances ranging from 1000m to 2000m) should be able to take more ground off Steven Burridge’s and Oscar Racing Stable’s smart galloper this time.
“Coming off the Gold Cup, he was looking for this kind of distance. I’m really confident going into the Derby, though, on paper, he will have to beat Mr Malek,” said Clements.
“Mr Malek has always been a top class horse. He had his problems (hoof issues after standing on a nail) as we all know, but they’ve got him right again.
“I’m not sure about Mr Malek if it rains, but my horse will be one length better off if it does, just like in the Gold Cup when it rained. He loves rain-affected tracks.”
While Burridge had pinned all his Derby hopes on only Mr Malek from the moment he walked in from trainer Lee Freedman’s yard, Clements had a few more irons in the fire, but was in the end left with one horse standing.
The Derby distance explains the dropouts, but Clements thought he had another ‘heart’ on standby.
“I had a few four-year-olds in the mix, but they were more sprinters like Celavi and Paletas. We tried Paletas (seventh) in the Stewards’ Cup, but we’ll now bring him back down to sprints,” he said.
“Heartening Flyer is the only other horse that was to me worthy of a place in the Derby, but the Tivic Stable didn’t want to run him.
“They have opted for the softer options at lower level races, so I respect their decision.”
Duric boasted two wins with Big Hearted earlier in his career. Other jockeys like Simon Kok Wei Hoong (Singapore Gold Cup-winning partner) and Louis-Philippe Beuzelin have since taken over but the four-time Singapore champion jockey is back, and hungrier than ever to land back-to-back Derbies for the same connections (Clements and Falcon Racing Stable) as Top Knight last year.
– Singapore Turf Club