A comeback race has been set down for champion galloper War Affair (O'Reilly x Kristique) – the SING-Gr.3 Saas Fee Stakes (1400m) on May 14.
It has been six months since the 2014 Singapore Horse of the Year last raced when a gallant third to Debt Collector – himself the reigning Horse of the Year - in the Gr.1 Raffles Cup (1800m) on October 30.
The son of O’Reilly tried his heart out, but post-race, something did give. He unfortunately came down with a wind problem which necessitated surgery.
Trainer Bruce Marsh has given the Ong family’s warrior all the time in the world to recover from the successful op to yet another setback to his injury-plagued career, only building up his workload in recent weeks with at least five gallops.
All this while, the Kiwi handler had taken his time to carefully pick out a comeback race for the Trelawney Stud graduate, preferring to see his prep proceed without any hiccup before committing to one.
It was only after his barrier trial – his first since the respiratory setback – on Thursday that an obviously satisfied Marsh disclosed what the target was – the Saas Fee Stakes, a race which used to be run in October but which has been moved forward to be run on the same day as the Gr.1 Singapore Guineas (1600m).
Ridden by Danny Beasley in the barrier trial, War Affair was eased out of the early speed battle before looping up the field within his own steam. He then let down with his customary late burst to get his nose right on the line and score from Conilad (Glen Boss) with the Ricardo Le Grange’s new US-bred Situation (Barend Vorster) third another length away. The winning time was 1min 01.1secs.
“I was very happy with that trial. You couldn’t ask much more than that,” said Marsh.
“We just wanted him to feel good about himself, and he did. Obviously, he wanted to win, and Danny did the right thing to let him stride, you don’t want to break their hearts.
“He won’t need another barrier trial. That was just nice, and he will go directly to the Saas Fee Stakes in two weeks’ time.”
At its eighth edition this year, the $200,000 feature race named after the two-time Singapore Gold Cup winner trained by the late Ivan Allan, is a conditions race.
With a rating of 115, the multiple-Group One winner will not be harshly treated as he should be allotted only 58kgs based on the special conditions of the race. Run at 5kgs under the Weight-For-Age scale, he gets a baseline of 53kgs on which another 5kgs is slapped on for being a Group One winner.
Weights and measures aside, Beasley was on his part oozing confidence the 15-time winner and stakes earner of more than $2.9 million has got the swagger back.
“I’ll sum up his trial in two words: ‘Winning spirit’,” said the Australian jockey as he jumped off with a smile.
“We didn’t want to push him as it was his first trial but he’s got such a great will to win that the moment he got a clear run in the straight, he just would not sit back, oh no, that was not for him.
“He’s a real competitor, and to be fair it was a Class 3 or 4 field he was trialling in and he should win anyway.
“I honestly didn’t expect him to be so forward, he’s light on his feet and everything is good with him, his action is really good. I’m really pleased with this trial.
“We just wanted him to be as good as he can be and he really looked after himself. He’s probably 85 to 90% ready, but like Bruce said, he is ready to go.” -STC