Koonta gives Maia Grand farewell
Hotshot Brazilian jockey leaves for Hong Kong as Kranji's leading jockey
Hong Kong-bound jockey Ruan Maia failed to get a winner from his seven nominated rides on his final Kranji meeting on Saturday, but one of his three chance mounts gave him the grand send-off he deserves.
Fittingly, it came in the main event - the $100,000 Kranji Stakes A race over 1,200m - with the grey Grand Koonta, whose nominated jockey Louis-Philippe Beuzelin was sidelined through gastric pain.
The 32-year-old Brazilian, who was granted a licence from March 1 until the end of its season in mid-July by The Hong Kong Jockey Club on Thursday, was thankful to trainer James Peters for the ride on the China Horse Club-owned prolific grey sprinter.
"This is just so great and I'm really lucky I got that ride on Grand Koonta. He's such a good horse and it's even better it was a Kranji Stakes A race," said Maia, a former two-time champion in Macau.
"Thanks so much to James Peters for that ride and to everybody who have supported me during my stay in Singapore. I believe I've done a good job.
"Now it's time for a new challenge in Hong Kong. But, like I said before, this is only goodbye. I would like to come back to Singapore to ride again, as I really love the place."
Maia made a few fleeting visits before the Singapore Turf Club granted him a full licence last year and he nearly prevented Vlad Duric from winning his fourth straight title.
It boiled down to the final meeting before he lost by just three winners with his 62-winner tally, which included two Group 1s with Aramaayo in the Kranji Mile and Raffles Cup.
He also captured the Group 2 Singapore Golden Horseshoe with Boomba and the Group 3 Colonial Chief Stakes with Super Dynasty.
Grand Koonta was his eighth winner. He is leaving as the leading jockey after four race meetings, three winners ahead of former two-time champion rookie Wong Chin Chuen and apprentice jockey Hakim Kamaruddin.
Duric did not ride on those four meetings - the first two because of a careless riding suspension and the last two for a minor throat problem.
Although he ran below par in his last two starts and his barrier trial for Saturday's task was a tad disappointing, the real Grand Koonta surfaced and provided Maia a smooth ride.
The Irish-bred gelding jumped swiftly to be well up.
Last-start winner Surpass Natural led, hounded by Fame Star. Grand Koonta was right behind, with Nowyousee next.
Fame Star collared Surpass Natural at the 300m mark but was in turn passed by Grand Koonta.
Under Maia's confident riding, his mount glided away for an easy one-length victory over the late-closing Churchill.
Grand Koonta clocked a good time - 1min 09.21sec - for his sixth success from 12 starts.
He has brought his prize money to almost $400,000.
More often that not, it pays to follow the last-minute smart money. Punters who did that on Saturday were well rewarded.
The dividends of New Garden, Clarton Supreme and Metal World (late You Qian Zhuan) plummeted in the last couple of minutes and they saluted to pay $33, $22 and $12 in Races 2, 7 and 10 respectively.