Former champ proves his worth
In-form jockey Benny Woodworth's initiative leads to Derby wannabe Elite Invincible leading all the way
A good jockey knows how to adapt to situations in a split second during a race.
Otherwise, the golden opportunity will be lost and the result may not end in his favour.
On Sunday, Kranji racegoers saw how a good judgment call made the winning difference, with racecaller Matthew Jones describing it as a "10 out of 10 ride" by in-form jockey Benny Woodworth.
When Plan A didn't materialise, the high-riding Malaysian jockey adopted Plan B and steered his chance mount, Elite Invincible, to a facile victory in the day's main event - the $125,000 Kranji Stakes A race over 1,600m on turf.
Woodworth, 45, was picked as a replacement rider for the Singapore Derby wannabe after nominated jockey Glen Boss injured his leg in an earlier race.
Elite Invincible is noted for his strong finish, winning two from three starts at Kranji over the Polytrack 1,200m and turf 1,400m when ridden by Vlad Duric, but Woodworth found that the pace was unsuitably slow for his mount.
So, he cleverly used his instinct to bulldoze to the front.
Otherwise, he could be trapped wide or too far back after jumping from the awkward gate 10 of 12 runners.
Crowned Malayan Racing Association champion while still an apprentice in 1995, champion in Malaysia in 2005 and champion in Mauritius in 2007, Woodworth did his rivals a disfavour when he dropped anchor to slow the pace down after getting a cheap sectional.
It somewhat stacked his opposition up and this normally throws off the backmarkers' rhythm and momentum.
Elite Invincible held a cushy lead going into the straight, where all eyes were trained on the leader to see if there was any distress signals coming.
There was none.
Instead, when asked by Woodworth, Elite Invincible kicked and went to the winning post one-and-a-quarter lengths clear of the fast-finishing Mr Spielberg, who showed he was coming back to form.
Woodworth probably reckoned he could afford to switch strategy as he knew he was on the best horse in the race.
The Mark Walker-trained Irish-breds bought for the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge Series in mind, especially the final leg, the $1.15 million Emirates Singapore Derby over 1,800m in July, went off as the $14 favourite.
Woodworth , who hoped he could keep the ride in the Derby, knew he was on a winning chance when approached to ride Elite Invincible, after Boss got injured on Born To Be King in Race 3, when his right foot hammered on the side of the gate and he lost his stirrup iron.
"I saw the horse won his last start impressively," said Woodworth .
"When the gates opened and the pace wasn't on, I decided to press ahead. When I went in front, I set a slow pace.
"Just at the turn, I gave him a small squeeze, he kicked on well and went strongly to the line."
With Walker back in his native New Zealand, his assistant trainer, Gus Clutterbuck, praised Woodworth for the good ride.
"Bad luck for Glen Boss but good luck for Benny. He summed it up quickly, went to the front and rated him really well," he said.
"He's a lovely horse, and it seems like the further he goes, the better he will get.
"He's improving all the time and acclimatising as the time goes on."
While Clutterbuck was not drawn to the Derby talk, letting the boss decide, Walker had openly said from the start that the owner of Elite Invincible, Elite Performance Stable, had bought the horse for the Derby.
"You'd think so, like he ran in that Dubai World Cup meeting in the UAE Derby then, so that's the reason the owners bought him trying to target the Derby," said Walker, after his charge's second success on Jan 14.
"So, obviously, everyone is targeting the Derby, so you've got to aim high sometimes. Let's see how far we get."
A £150,000 (S$272,000) purchase as a three-year-old, Elite Invincible raced six times in the United Kingdom and Dubai as Qatar Man.
He scored over 1,609m at Kempton Park in England and was second three times, including one in a Listed race.
In Dubai, he was deemed good enough to contest the Group 3 UAE Guineas over 1,600m at Meydan in February. He did well to finish fourth.
On Dubai World Cup Night on March 25, he competed the US$2 million (S$2.7 million) Group 2 UAE Derby over 1,900m and finished sixth on the soft ground.
After the UAE Derby, Elite Invincible was acquired for Singapore racing and landed on July 29. He has now won about $135,000 for his new owners.