From 'ugly duckling' to Black Swan
Trainer Burridge's much-improved galloper rises from Class 5 to potential Singapore Gold Cup hopeful
Just fancy this. From August 2015 to June last year, he went through 23 races without greeting the judge and saw his rating drop to the Class 5 range of 43.
Then, all of a sudden, the "ugly duckling" transformed into the graceful Black Swan, who glided away to pick up 33 points from five victories in 11 starts and become a Dester Singapore Gold Cup aspirant.
True to what racecaller Matthew Jones said, the Steven Burridge-trained five-year-old Australian-bred is one of the real improvers at Kranji - from a Class 5 maiden to a potential Gold Cup runner in November.
It was not until his 24th start on June 11 last year that Black Swan opened winning accounts in a Class 5 event over the new Gold Cup distance of 2,000m. Until last year, the premier classic was run over 2,200m.
Two more wins followed in Class 4, the second in the course-record time of 1min 51.07sec for the Polytrack 1,800m.
After a third and a second placing, Black Swan notched his fourth success in a Polytrack race over 1,700m as the $13 favourite in Class 3.
With such a consistent record, it was a real surprise that the chestnut gelding was neglected in the betting on Friday night, going off at $136, in Kranji Stakes B over 1,600m.
True, the field had a few smart horses, but for Black Swan to jump out at three-figure odds with his sizzling form remains a mystery.
But his old faithful fans were laughing all the way to the bank.
Even Burridge reckoned it was a strong race.
He told apprentice Noh Senari to stick to the inside and ride the horse for luck.
Maximus led but was overtaken by Brahma Circus at the halfway stage. Black Swan was worse than midfield on the shortest route home.
Maximus regained the lead shortly after straightening. Gold Cup-winning jockey Michael Rodd brought the $20 favourite Certainly up to challenge.
Jockey Nooresh Juglall steered $31 chance Mighty Kenny up to within striking distance. Noh also started to stoke up Black Swan.
Maximus, a $56 shot ridden by apprentice Troy See, kicked to about a length clear in the final 200m but was pressured by Black Swan on his inside.
In an exciting rush to the winning post, Black Swan just nailed Maximus by a mere nose.
"He has just matured with age," said Burridge, who leads the trainer's table with 14 winners, two ahead of Michael Clements.
"You know, he had a few problems early - had a wind problem and a couple of other things. But he just matured.
"I just really want to thank Masa Otani, the owner. He has allowed me to give him time to come right.
"I thought tonight was probably a bit strong. I just said to young Noh to ride him for luck. I said you've Michael Rodd and he'll be up in front and the other one, Mighty Kenny.
"I said ride him for luck and, if you can win, great, and he rode him a treat."
Noh said Burridge told him to ride him for luck since they were drawn on the inside (gate 4).
"Basically, he said just don't go out and just ride him for luck," added the new leading rookie, who is tied with R Zawari at six winners apiece but has a couple more second placings.
"The horse came home really nice for me. I didn't expect, but I know he's in good form."
With his vast-improving stayer going from strength to strength, it is only logical for Burridge to harbour big hopes for Black Swan.
"Well, you know, we may even go for the Gold Cup later in the year. I'm sure he'll run 2,000m," said the 2010 champion, who captured the Gold Cup with Risky Business the same year.