Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Mark Zahra looms as the final piece to the Sacred Croix puzzle in the $1 million Group 1 Kranji Mile (1600m) on Saturday.
The son of Savabeel had been in the mix in elite company for the better part of two years, but for all his big runs at Group level, the fact remains that Sacred Croix has not visited the winner’s circle since April 2021.
And this was not for want of trying or planning by trainer Jerome Tan and his connections. Some of the best jockeys – including Australian star jockey Jamie Kah – have been legged up on the eight-time winner, but that elusive win at the top level is still missing on Sacred Croix’s CV.
Time for Zahra, a big-race rider who knows what it takes to rise to the occasion with recent wins that included last year’s Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) on Gold Trip and here in Singapore, the Group 1 Singapore Gold Cup (2000m) on Hongkong Great for trainer Ricardo Le Grange.
Prior to his hit-and-run Singapore Gold Cup victory – a peach of a ride from gate 16 – Zahra answered a call to ride Golden Monkey for his good friend and bloodstock agent Josh McLoughlan in the Group 1 Lion City Cup (1200m) in August 2022. The pair finished an eye-catching third behind Lim’s Kosciuszko, who will be the likely-favourite in the Kranji Mile.
When McLoughlan – principal of Jig Bloodstock – put word out that Zahra was available for the Kranji Mile, Tan was quick to get on the phone and booked the in-form hoop for Sacred Croix.
Zahra knew the horse well and liked what he had seen. With no commitments in Australia bigger than the $1 million on offer in Singapore, the well-travelled jockey was Kranji-bound in an instant.
The Raffles Racing Stable-owned eight-year-old had excuses before running on strongly in the Group 2 EW Barker Trophy (1400m) at handicap conditions on April 23. A month earlier, he could have arguably finished closer to Lim’s Kosciusko instead of just third in the Group 1 Raffles Cup (1600m) at weight-for-age conditions.
Can Zahra make the difference – perhaps a length or two – to be a serious threat to the mighty Lim’s Kosciuszko on Saturday? The man himself cannot wait to find out.
“Really looking forward to getting back to Singapore,” said Zahra from Melbourne on Thursday.
“Josh asked me if I was interested to come up if there was a decent ride on offer. When Jerome contacted my manager with the ride on Sacred Croix, I didn’t need much convincing.
“Obviously I would miss good rides back in Australia, so it had to be worthwhile. But I knew the horse well enough from previous trips and after watching replays of his recent runs over 1400m and 1600m, I knew he was a serious chance in the Kranji Mile. And a million dollar race is a big deal anywhere in the world.
“Gate seven is good for us. Given the expected early pace by Fame Star and Mr Black Back who have both drawn wide, I would imagine we’d just sit in mid-field and ride our own race.
“Lim’s Kosciuszko is clearly the horse to beat but I think he (Sacred Croix) could have finished closer to him in the Raffles Cup. Jerome also told me that the horse is going as good as he has ever been. So, why not?”
Zahra has five other commitments on the day but according to McLoughlan – who helped source his rides – he was happy to save his best for the Kranji Mile.
“I’ve known Mark for years – he’s a good friend – so I was happy to put the word out that he was keen,” said McLoughlan, who also has an interest in Mr Black Back and Trumpy in the Kranji Mile.
“He said he didn’t want too many rides as he wanted to be 100% for Sacred Croix, so he only has a handful (of rides), which is perfect.
“(Trainer) Donna (Logan) was quick to put him on as many as she could and I think he will suit her good sprinter (King Arthur in the Cash Luck 2013 Stakes, a $100,000 Class 1 race over 1200m).
“He (King Arthur) is the best sprinter in the race and while he has to carry the top weight (59kgs), Mark will get the best out of him.
“He also rides Stenmark, Aftermath and God’s Gift for Donna and In All His Glory for (trainer) Tim (Fitzsimmons).
“But he’s here for Sacred Croix and I told him he’s a chance to beat Lim’s Kosciusko with him as the rider on.”
Of his recent purple patch of form, Zahra is still pinching himself that the opportunity to win both the Melbourne Cup and the Singapore Gold Cup had not been lost after two close calls.
“It’s well documented that the horse I was meant to ride in the Melbourne Cup in 2021 (Verry Elleegant) won with another jockey (James McDonald). And to be honest, I thought my chance was gone to win the big one at my age and weight.
“So to win 12 months later on Gold Trip was surreal. Not only do you go down in history as a Melbourne Cup winner, I got to do it on a horse some mates have shares in, which made it all the more special.
“And to win the (Singapore) Gold Cup in the same month was something I certainly didn’t expect.
“I just got beat on Mayo’s Music way back in 2004. At the 200m, I thought to myself ‘I’ve won this’, but (jockey) Mark (Du Plessis) kicked on Raul and beat us.
“So to win 18 years later on Hongkong Great for Ricardo was a big thrill.”
Going forward, local racing fans will most probably see Zahra in action again next month, but it is a case of family first for the father of one.
“Josh has asked me back to ride Golden Monkey in the (Group 3) Silver Bowl (1400m) in June (11), which is great, but I’m taking (wife) Elyse and (daughter) Harper for a family holiday in Europe – wintertime (in Australia) is family time for us.
“So I will miss the second (Group 2 Stewards’ Cup over 1600m on July 2) and third (Group 1 Singapore Derby over 1800m on July 23) Legs of the (Singapore Four-Year-Old) series.
“But I love riding at Kranji – can’t wait for Saturday – and I love Singapore, so I will be back whenever I can.”
– Singapore Turf Club