Big Hearted display, indeed
$42 chance capitalises on his light weight to give Clements and Kok their first Singapore Gold Cup win
The feeling was surreal, one with "just too many emotions running through my body".
That was how reigning champion apprentice jockey Simon Kok felt after he captured the $1 million Group 1 Singapore Gold Cup over 2,000m aboard $42 chance Big Hearted at Kranji on Saturday.
Never mind that the racetrack was eerily empty - the time-honoured premier classic was run behind closed doors for the first time because of the Covid-19 pandemic - Kok was bouncing like the happiest man on earth.
After all, it was his first Gold Cup ride after switching from showjumping to race-riding in January 2018 and he nicked it with his brilliant piece of riding.
Young as he may be, only 25 years of age, he rode like a veteran to become the second apprentice jockey, after Shafiq Rizuan on Cooptado in 2015, to win the blue riband of the turf at Kranji racecourse.
He was not worried to have only one horse, Kranji Mile-Raffles Cup winner Aramaayo, behind him early in the capacity field of 16.
Sensing his mount was not appreciating the rain-affected inner track, he switched out to tag on to his Singapore Derby-Queen Elizabeth II Cup-winning stablemate and $12 favourite, Top Knight, as his lead on the better ground.
Both the Michael Clements-trained and Falcon Racing No. 7 Racing-owned horses moved up beautifully turning for home. They went after the Lee Freedman-trained Minister, who had taken over the lead from pacemaker Yulong Edition.
While Top Knight was burdened by the 57kg topweight, Big Hearted produced more with only 50kg on his back. He overtook Minister to win by half a length. Top Knight was third, 13/4 lengths away.
"Very, very happy... just too many emotions running through my body as soon as I passed the winning post. It's unbelievable," said an elated Kok over the phone.
"It hasn't quite sunk in yet. I would like to thank my boss, Steven Burridge, for letting me take this ride, Michael Clements and the owners for having faith in me and the staff for doing a good job on the horse."
Kok felt that Big Hearted was not too happy with the wet ground on the inside on the back straight and he deftly shifted back behind Top Knight.
"I decided to follow Top Knight, because he was the widest horse, and he got the best ground," said the Malaysian rider, whose other feature success was with Star Emperor in the Group 3 Jumbo Jet Trophy over 1,400m last year.
"He brought me beautifully into the race. Come to the 500m, my horse had a better turn of foot because of the light weight. That's why he kicked away very strongly and I was pretty confident in the last 350m."
The day started with beautiful weather. But the storm that came and delayed Race 7 and the remaining races by half an hour certainly put the smile on Clements' face.
"Top Knight and Big Hearted were winners on the wet track last start. When the rain came, it was welcomed," said the Zimbabwe-born trainer.
"Earlier on in the race, I felt Big Hearted was probably a bit too far back. But Vlad, on Top Knight, was just in front of him. Vlad decided to make a move to make up ground and Simon just followed him. He's getting 7kg from Top Knight, so he was ideal horse to get a lead on.
"With 50m before the straight, I could see both were starting to motor home.
"Halfway up the straight, Minister was still a long way in front, but they were flying. I felt that we would have a very big chance of winning the race.
"Within the last 100m, Big Hearted, as he is aptly named, really dug deep and won a great race. Top Knight ran well, giving 7kg to the winner."
It was also Clements' first Gold Cup win.
Top Knight's defeat meant another topweight had fallen victim to tradition.The last toppie to win was Smart Bet 18 years ago. Since then, six horses have won with 50kg, and many others under 53kg, because of the handicap conditions.
On Top Knight's Hong Kong Mile plan on Dec 13, Clements said: "He's the reserve. If invited, we will still consider going. We'll see how he comes through over the next week."