Sir Top Knight gets confirmed
Clements' Singapore Derby winner swoops home from last to capture the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup
In May last year, the excited Singapore Turf Club commentator Luke Marlow blurted "I dub thee Sir Top Knight" as the Champion Three-Year-Old crushed his rivals in the Group 1 Singapore Guineas.
Well, that knighthood has been confirmed with trainer Michael Clements' recent Group 1 Singapore Derby winner also scooping Saturday's royal race - the $400,000 Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup over 1,800m.
The race was inaugurated in 1972 to mark the British monarch's state visit to Singapore. Run at the old Bukit Timah racecourse, it was won by British legend Lester Piggott on the Ivan Allan-trained Jumbo Jet. The Queen came back in 2006. This time, she presented the trophies at Kranji.
Fittingly, the winner had a royal ring to it, King And King, trained by Steven Burridge and ridden by Richard Lim.
Like his Derby triumph, Top Knight also came from last to win and erased his disappointing ninth placing in the Group 1 Raffles Cup over 1,600m.
It gave champion jockey Vlad Duric his third QE II Cup. He also won on I'm Incredible last year and Quechua in 2017.
It was Clements' first.
Trailing a long last on a track rendered yielding by a thunderstorm, which delayed the race by about half an hour, certainly gave cause for concern for his connections and supporters.
But, knowing the horse inside-out, Duric took the $17 favourite wide in the straight for better footing and came charging home at a rate of knots.
The Falcon Racing No. 7 Stable-owned galloper went on to win by two easy lengths from the Lee Freedman-trained Minister. Third, a neck away, was Freedman's reigning Singapore Gold Cup winner Mr Clint.
The Shane Baertschiger-trained Group 1 Kranji Mile-cum-Raffles Cup winner Aramaayo dropped in fourth.
"It didn't look good at one stage, he was a long way back," said Clements.
"In the backstretch, I was wondering why Vlad was so far back. But, credit to him, he knows this horse so well. It was a masterful ride, timing-wise, under the conditions.
"It's very tough to ride under such conditions, but he timed it to perfection. He actually gave him a similar ride in the Derby.
"This horse has got such a big heart. I had no doubt about him bouncing back from the Raffles Cup. He really powered home.
"I was not too worried by the rain. He won on a yielding track in the Derby. But going into a Group 1 race, if it's too heavy and there is a downpour, you do have some concerns. But he obviously likes it."
The $1 million Group 1 Singapore Gold Cup over 2,000m on Nov 21 now beckons. A win in the blue riband of the local turf will virtually assure him of the Horse of the Year title.
But Clements is wary of the race handicap, since Top Knight will be burdened with a heavy weight with his good record.
"The Gold Cup is always a hard race for any horse running against younger horses who carry only 50kg," he said.
"We are just exploring our options and we'll have a better idea in the coming weeks."
Duric, who just a week earlier won his third Lion City Cup, was initially worried to be at the rear.
"We were so far back I first thought we would run nowhere," he said. "But, at the 600m, I thought I could run sixth or seventh.
"Then I thought we might run third into the straight. But, five or six strides later, I already knew I would win easy. He's such a little ripper to ride, he's given me three Group 1 wins."
Top Knight has amassed about $1.7 million in prize money from nine wins, six seconds and a third.