Forget the standing 'Count' - it was a KO, for sure

Clements' phenom delivers in last race

There were fist pumps at Kranji on Sunday when news came through that "reserve" runner COUNTOFMONTECRISTO had got a berth in the last race.

That done, there were high-fives, back slaps and cheers a-plenty after the Michael Clements-trained phenom won unchallenged in his first test after a break.

Countofmontecristo was the first emergency in the highlight of the day - the $100,000 Open Benchmark 97 race over 1,200m on Polytrack, and the race took a whole new dimension when he was promoted as a starter after spots were made vacant with the withdrawals of Good News and stablemate Italian Job.

If fans still had to bear with eight races getting out of the way until the last on the nine-race programme, it was certainly well worth the wait.

Their champion galloper came off an ideal fourth spot in transit - two off the fence - before tackling a trio made up of THE GENERAL (Nooresh Juglall), LINCOLN ROAD (John Powell) and NOVA SWISS (Manoel Nunes) upon straightening.

First time against a stronger class of horses and first-up from a three-month spell since his first defeat (after a sterling five-in-a-row including the first two Legs of the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge, the Sprint over 1,200m and the Classic over 1,400m), it was thought Countofmontecristo might have a few chinks in the armour this time, even if the level of confidence was high on his short $8 quote alone.

If he did seem, from the grandstand, to have hit a brickwall on levelling up with Nova Swiss, in the saddle his regular partner knew otherwise.

Glen Boss was on top of things. Saving the best for last, the Australian ace gave the three-year-old a few more squeezes, which eventually resulted into the high-class galloping machine putting all doubts to rest.

Countofmontecristo would beat Nova Swiss by a length and a quarter, clocking a smart time of 1:10.7676sec for the 1,200m. It was just 0.05sec outside the Class record held by Goal Keeper.

If Clements had been harbouring any doubts about ring-rustiness, they were quickly allayed after such a pulsating win, though the Zimbabwean-born handler's heart did skip a beat close home.

"For a horse of his calibre, I thought he would go whoosh at the 200m. He was not quickening as expected and there were some anxious moments," he said.

"But Glen rode him with great confidence and never panicked. In the end, he won quite easily.

"Of course, I was a bit worried how he would go first-up against Class 1 horses. It was also on Polytrack even if he won on it at his first start. But he had a great prep, and he has come back bolder and brighter than he was."

Boss, who had to waste hard to ride him 1.5kg over his allotted postage stamp weight of 50kg, said he had gone into Sunday's race prepared not to look "too pretty".

"It was intentional to keep him out of trouble by riding him off the rails," said Boss. "He was the best horse in the race and I was not going to ride him pretty.

"On the Poly over 1,200m after a break was a question mark. But he was so relaxed throughout the run and, in the end, he won a nice race."