After a seemingly never-ending spree of health setbacks and stop-and-starts around his racing comeback, champion galloper War Affair (O'Reilly x Kristique) finally bounced back to the big time with a stellar winning performance in the $125,000 Kranji Stakes A race over 1400m on Sunday.
Long time on the sidelines owing to a combination of injury and fitness concerns, not to mention a change of yard from Alwin Tan to Bruce Marsh, the Trelawney Stud graduate gave connections and his legion of fans a rather conservative comeback on September 9, more than 14 months after his last run when a brave second to Quechua in the 2015 Emirates Singapore Derby (2000m), running a four-length seventh to Wimbledon in a Kranji Stakes A race over 1200m.
He was not widely expected to win first-up, but that first cobweb-blowing outing had done the 2014 Singapore Horse of the Year a power of good as could be construed from his winning barrier trial on Tuesday, besides his generally improved condition.
Still, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. With opponents of the calibre of Quechua, Laughing Gravy and Majestic Moments in the mix and the seven furlongs not being his best trip, most thought the six-year-old still faced a stiff task.
But riding him like he was the best horse in the race, Beasley turned in a faultless performance astride the horse he had previously steered to five of his previous 14 wins, all Group wins including three at Group 1 level. From the low draw, the Australian hoop was able to tuck into an ideal spot behind leader Spanish Bay (Shafiq Rizuan) before popping off the rails midrace when they slowed up the tempo.
A bunched-up field straightened up for the judge with no clear-cut winner coming from any quarters at that stage, but a better idea was formed when War Affair took the race by the scruff of the neck as he levelled up with Spanish Bay before striding boldly towards the winning post.
Behind, favourite Nova Strike (Manoel Nunes) could not quicken up after coursing out four wide punching the breeze, while the backmarkers like Quechua, Laughing Gravy or Fastnet Dragon were not getting on their bikes either. For a while, the job to upstage the Warplan Racing Stable-owned ace was left to an unlikely candidate in longshot Slew Of Lode (Olivier Placais), but he also looked safely held as he plugged on one length astern.
The old champ looked home and hosed until Majestic Moments (Nooresh Juglall) finally found daylight after being hopelessly strung up in traffic on the rails for what seemed like an eternity.
Juglall immediately cut the ribbons as the pair went flat to the boards inside the last 100m in a wild bid to peg War Affair ($22) back. Finishing with a wet sail, the mission still looked possible as they lunged right on the line, but for the fourth time in a row, had to frustratingly settle for second place, and by a narrow margin yet again.
This time, it was only a short head that separated him from War Affair, with the Patrick Shaw yard queuing up right behind for third and fourth place, which respectively went to Slew Of Lode and Emperor’s Banquet (Barend Vorster). The winning time was 1min 23.71secs for the 1400m on the Long Course.
Marsh, who was at only his second time saddling War Affair despite having taken over his preparation since November last year, said the way the race worked out suited his ward from the get-go.
“He was in the box-seat and just needed to quicken when Danny asked him to go,” said the Kiwi handler.
“From that draw (2), as there were a lot of stayers in the race, we had to be quite handy without putting too much pressure on him.
“He showed his class today, to come back from a long break and to win second-up, what a fantastic performance.”
Beasley said Sunday’s race was, win or lose, meant to be a conditioning race to polish off the rough edges towards his main target, the Group 1 Panasonic Kranji Mile (1600m) on October 9, but the win has come as more than a welcomed bonus.
“The plan was to give him a good race, not a hard race, win or lose, and it’s worked out perfectly,” he said.
“He strode out beautifully and landed in a great spot outside the leader. We knew Spanish Bay would be the only leader and all I had to do is keep in touch with him.
“We all know War Affair is a horse who can either sit on the pace or come from off it, but we just went with his normal pattern, just to give him the easiest run possible so he can have every chance at his next race.
“To me, he was not quite ready for today’s race. It was always about the race in two weeks’ time.
“He was probably 85% today, but he will definitely be 100% in two weeks’ time.”
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