where the horse is always the hero
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Posted 2022-11-20 18:20:49  
South African Trainer Wins Gold Cup in Singapore

There were plenty of questions asked about Hongkong Great prior to the running of the Singapore Gold Cup this year but they were all answered in the affirmative when the well-travelled Chilean-bred seven-year-old won the $1 million Group 1 race with a proverbial leg up in the air.

His last win on the turf was in his country of birth back in 2018. While he was gallant in the equal-fourth in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (1800m) on October 15, Hongkong Great was giving weight to all at the handicap conditions of the Singapore Gold Cup and had to jump from the widest gate for good measure.

The gate (16) was almost the final nail in the coffin of his winning chances but with big-race jockey Mark Zahra booked to ride him, connections – including trainer Ricardo Le Grange - dared to dream that the Melbourne Cup-winning hoop could conjure up the impossible.

With the $15 favourite Mr Black Back making the early running for jockey Craig Williams from gate two - and with no other runners really pushing to challenge for the lead - Zahra was able to cross relatively easily to sit on the flank of Mr Black Back as the rest of the field jostled for positions behind them.

Both horses looked to be travelling very comfortably throughout and with no change in the order – Senor Don (Jake Bayliss) and Hard Too Think (Danny Beasley) were up on the pace to keep the leaders honest - it was anyone’s race to win as the pair matched strides on the final turn.

With a six-kilo pull in weights, Williams made his move at the 700m to make it a true staying test but Zahra was still sitting as quiet as a church mouse on Hongkong Great ($41) as they swung for home, before he headed Mr Black Back when things got serious at the 400m.

The big crowd roared and a two-horse battle was on the cards but when Zahra got busy at the 300m, it was over for Mr Black Back – who was game in defeat - but for all intent and purposes, the only question that remained was how far Hongkong Great would win by.

At the 200m, he was two lengths clear and going away from the field with Zahra doing the minimum required to keep the Yue Kwok Yin Edward-owned gelding’s mind on the job to eventually win by two-and-a-half lengths over a fast-finishing Super Impact (Michael Dee). Cyclone (Ronnie Stewart) ran a-quarter-of-a-length back in third and the gallant Trumpy (A’Isisuhairi Kasim) finished with the same margin back in fourth.

The winning time was 2mins 0.86 secs for the 2000m on the Short Course and the lion’s share of the $1 million purse took Hongkong Great’s prizemoney to over $590,000 in Singapore from just five starts.

A somewhat subdued salute on the line by Zahra underplayed both the masterful ride and the enormity of the win for his emotional trainer.

“When we drew that horrendous barrier, I thought there’s no one better to have on your horse than Mark,” said Le Grange after he won his first Singapore Gold Cup as a trainer in his own right.

“(Owner) Mr Yue - the family – never even questioned. They just said you do what you think is the right thing to do.

“I have to say thank you very much to them (Yue family) for giving me this opportunity to train a horse that was probably a bit of a write-off in Hong Kong.

“The day he got here, he just showed me that there was still something left in him. I think that’s been proven now.

“Once he cruised across and got outside of Mr Black Back, I thought we had a chance. My confidence was growing every yard down the backstraight and round the turn - Craig was under pressure, we were jogging - and I thought unless something jumps out of the pack, we are home.

“What a feeling. What a good jockey.”

It was a team effort and Le Grange was quick to turn the attention to those that got the job done behind the scenes.

“I have to say to (assistant-trainer) Jacci de Tert - an absolute superstar, the backbone of my stable,” continued the still visibly shell-shocked trainer.

“To (track rider) (Mohd) Solleh who rides him every day – he’s not an easy horse to ride, to (ex-Kranji trainer) Patrick (Shaw) who gave me the opportunity to train and to the (Singapore) Turf Club for putting up this amazing prizemoney.

“But I want to dedicate this win to a man who passed away two weeks ago – Mr Yong Mee Him (Gold and Chelsea Stable). This one’s for you, Mr Yong.

“This is what’s it all about: waking up in the mornings to come and do this work. This is the dream, and I’m living the dream.”

Stable representative Andre Bally (left), jockey Mark Zahra and trainer

It has been a huge month for the winning jockey. It started on November 1 with his first Melbourne Cup victory on topweight Gold Trip and Zahra was amazed at how easy he had it early in the Singapore Gold Cup.

“I drew wide but I was able to get across quite easily,” said Zahra to racing presenter Scott Bailey of his second Group 1 win in Singapore after the John Meagher-trained Mayo’s Music in the Raffles Cup in 2004.

“Mr Black Back – Craig - made his intentions pretty clear and I was able to glide across and sit outside and had a beautiful trip the whole way.”

When queried by Bailey, Zahra explained that the early intent by Williams was more than helpful to a horse that needed to stride along.

“I think that if they go too slow – he’s (Hongkong Great) got a big stride on him – it’d probably upset him,” he said.

“Craig was setting a nice tempo and I was just gliding along beside him and I could see Craig asking (for an effort) about the 800m and at the 600m and I hadn’t asked my guy yet.

“I was a bit worried about the distance today but he gave a good kick at the top of the straight.”

A private room at Nobu Singapore, a Japanese restaurant, was the post-race plan for the bang-in-form jockey and Le Grange was making similar plans with celebrations likely to continue long into the night.

Singapore Turf Club

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