Makanani bounces back over the mile
Trainer Hideyuki Takaoka unsure if his 5YO mare will attempt the $1 million Group 1 Singapore Gold Cup over 2,000m in November
The field was depleted to eight runners after the scratching of McGregor in Friday's main race - the $85,000 Class 2 event over 1,600m - but it sure was a closely contested affair.
Only 21/2 lengths separated the first from last at the winning post - and the winner won by a mere nose with a last-bounce victory that had racegoers on the edge of their seats.
It was Japanese mare Makanani, driven by Frenchman Marc Lerner, who emerged victorious from Loyalty Man who was shouted the winner a long way out.
Makanani had not saluted since taking out a Kranji Stakes B race over the similar 1,600m trip on Nov 11 last year.
Since that run on Singapore Gold Cup Day, the five-year-old by Black Tide took a stab at Group level three times, including the Invitational Group 1 Kranji Mile, in which she ran 10th to Hong Kong's Southern Legend, but finished only seven lengths astern as a $544 pop.
Trainer Hideyuki Takaoka then freshened the Big Valley Stable-owned mare up before bringing her back in a Class 2 race on July 21.
The 1,400m was evidently too short but Makanani made steady ground to run fourth to Nepean, beaten by only 21/2 lengths.
The extra 200m on Friday night suited the talented mare but she did give her supporters some anxious moments. They thought her run came a tad too late.
Up front, Loyalty Man, with Singapore Derby-winning jockey Joseph Azzopardi astride, had wrested the lead from Easy Does It, the mount of leading apprentice jockey WH Kok.
Loyalty Man looked all poised to collect a first local win second-up for champion trainer Lee Freedman, who saddled the Derby winner Sun Marshal.
The other swoopers - Claudia's Beauty (Callan Murray), Viviano (Juan Paul van der Merwe) and Blue Swede (John Powell) - were descending, too.
But Lerner drove Makanani hard to the line. The $17 chance got up in the nick of time to beat Loyalty Man by the barest of margins.
Claudia's Beauty took third place, just half a length behind, with Viviano a neck away and a head in front of Blue Swede.
The winning time was 1min 35.5sec for the 1,600m on the narrow Long Course E.
Lerner was delighted he was able to get a first win at his fifth ride aboard the Big Valley Stable-owned galloper. His fellow countryman Olivier Placais was the winning partner at her last two wins last year.
"Finally, she wins a race. She's always been running good races," said Lerner.
"In the Kranji Mile, she was not beaten far from good horses, and last time, the distance was too short.
" I rode her positive. I was a bit scared in the straight as she took some time to get balanced up. Maybe it was the track. She needs the sting out of the ground and she needs further.
"I actually wanted to stay behind Loyalty Man at one stage as she's better off chasing another horse, and can settle better. But taking her to the outside was also good as she had a clear run to the line, and I was confident she would get there.
"Olivier has always told me she was a Gold Cup horse, the 2,000m of the Gold Cup will suit her, I think. She just needs to settle and a wet track will help her as well."
Being the second emergency in last year's Group 1 Dester Singapore Gold Cup, Makanani did not get a run. But she did win the Kranji Stakes B race over the mile on the undercard.
When probed whether the staying mare will have a second crack at the time-honoured race in November, Takaoka was not as enthusiastic as his jockey.
"I don't know if I will run her in bigger races. We'll see," said the soft-spoken handler.
"The distance suited her better than her last run. There are not many races that suit her.
"As you know, it's been quite a long time we did not have longer distance races. She fought very hard for the win tonight."
With that sixth success along with two seconds from 27 starts, Makanani has taken her stakes earnings past the $330,000 mark for Masa Otani's Big Valley Stable.