Hard Too Think springs upset in Derby
$40 chance gives trainer Stephen Gray his second Singapore Derby, jockey Marc Lerner his first
His rating may have been the second-lowest ranked of the eight Singapore Derby contenders, but Hard Too Think rose to the occasion to play giant-killer in the $400,000 Group 1 race at Kranji yesterday.
Last-start Stewards' Cup winner Mr Malek and last November's Singapore Gold Cup victor Big Hearted - the highest-rated at 98 and 94 respectively - looked invincible. They went off as the top two favourites, at $10 and $11 respectively.
Although rated lowly - and he probably would not have qualified if there had been big entries like in pre-pandemic times - the ever-improving Hard Too Think unleashed a top run to prove that anything can happen in racing. He won comfortably by a length from Big Hearted.
Savvy Command finished third, 3/4 lengths behind in the feature for four-year-olds. It was run behind closed doors for the second year because of Covid-19. Mr Malek could only finish fourth, half a length away.
Hard Too Think won in 1min 48.27sec for the 1,800m trip on the Long Course B.
Rated only on 67 points with Class 4 as his highest level of success, trainer Stephen Gray's decision to have a roll of the dice because of the small field and that his rising star stays the distance paid off handsomely.
The $40 third fancy gave him his second Derby, after Lim's Prestige in 2007.
For jockey Marc Lerner, it was his first.
Lerner got Hard Too Think off brilliantly from his second-widest draw to be up front with Senor Don and Mr Malek. Big Hearted and Sun Power were the last to leave the stalls.
Jockey Wong Chin Chuen sent Senor Don to play the rabbit's role and was about a length ahead of Teller. Mr Malek was a bit wide on his outside.
Then came Sun Power, who made up ground quickly, and Savvy Command. Hard Too Think was eased back to sixth, ahead of Metal World and Big Hearted, who saw them all.
The formation did not change until the home turn with about 600m left to run. Jockey A'Isisuhairi Kasim took Mr Malek to go after Senor Don. Hard Too Think loomed up third. Champion jockey Vlad Duric also made a quick forward move on Big Hearted on the outside for an unimpeded run.
Mr Malek and Hard Too Think collared the leader together 400m out. Hard Too Think then gave more and kicked clear. Big Hearted gave chase but to no avail. The winner was too good.
Gray was worried when Big Hearted came with a big run.
"He was probably the horse to beat because he could stay. He is the Gold Cup winner. I thought he was well prepared and he had Vlad Duric on," he said.
"I knew my horse stays the distance, just whether he has the ability to beat him - and he did. Good win, very exciting. It wasn't the strongest field, but still, we won the Derby and it goes into the record, right?
"I think I was very excited and emotional, as it's been hard for all of us here, for Singapore trainers, all the owners and the staff. We all stuck together to keep the racing going.
"I'm very thankful to my staff, especially my Malaysian track riders who have stayed (away) from their families for so long because of Covid. If we didn't have the track riders, there would have been no racing. I'm also thankful to Lisa O'Shea, my assistant trainer, and all the staff who have worked hard."
If there is one regret, it was that his co-owners of Hard Too Think and their families could not watch their Derby victory.
"Hopefully, we can get back to normalcy and get the crowds back. I've 20-over people but they couldn't be here. A lot of them are first-time owners , so to win a Derby is a great thrill for them. I felt a bit sad. It's a different emotion. It's quite bizarre when I looked up the stands and there was no-one there."
A'Isisuhairi felt being trapped wide probably took its toll on the favourite Mr Malek.
"I wished I could get some cover. It was his first time over the distance and it was not much help when you are caught wide like that. Another thing is that the track turned firm late in the day," he said.