Debt Collector, Singapore’s undisputed champion of the 2016 season stepped out for his first barrier trial in almost a year on Thursday morning, looking like a “brand new horse”.
Trainer Cliff Brown said the Thorn Park six-year-old had filled out and looked stronger, a new physique which he hoped would translate into a return to his best, if not better.
The eight-time Kranji winner, left Kranji in December to spend five months at Newhaven Park in Australia, just chilling and getting the rigours of racing off his mind. He returned to Brown’s stables in May via quarantine, after which he was slowly reconditioned into a racehorse towards his comeback race, next Sunday’s $200,000 Jumbo Jet Trophy (1400m).
The Victorian-based Barree Stable-owned gelding won that race in 2016, also first-up from a break.
But the lead-up was different then. He had been backed off after breezing through the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge, winning the last two Legs, including the Singapore Guineas (1600m), in superlative style.
The interruption is longer this time, the horse is two years older - and the residual fitness from paddock frolics is not quite the same.
Debt Collector does not usually contest the finish in barrier trials, but regular partner Michael Rodd noticeably gave him a squeeze at the 250m this time. Glimpses of that dash of old were revived when he responded with a short sharp sprint on the outside to finish.
The photo finish showed that Circuit Land had prevailed by a short head from Mr Fantastic with Debt Collector third another nose away.
In his usual nonchalant way, Brown gave the hit-out a nod of approval, but added he would be surprised if win No 9 was at the receiving end first-up after such a protracted break.
“He’s fine. As you know, he hasn’t won for a long time (February 2017, first-up after winning the Raffles Cup four months earlier),” said the Australian handler.
“He’s come back good after that stay in Australia, but he’s still a bit fat. He won’t win the Jumbo Jet.
“No doubt, he’s changed a lot. He’s a lot bigger and stronger and you can see it.
“He trialled good today, but there’s a big difference between a barrier trial and actual match-race conditions. But the blow will do him good.”
Rodd said that he was a little more demanding that usual in Thursday’s pipe-opener because Debt Collector was probably more ring-rusty this time, and D-day is only 10 days away.
“He has come back a different horse after his spell in Australia. He’s bigger and we’ll see how overweight he will be next Sunday,” said the Australian jockey who has ridden Debt Collector at 15 of his 18 starts for seven of his eight wins.
“He is physically more developed, though. Fingers crossed, he progresses day by day and will be presented as close as possible to his best next week.
“I still think he will need the run. He had to do a bit more this time, and that’s because we don’t have the luxury of another prep.
“It’s going to be a hot race, but he will be hitting the line for sure. He will carry some weight, but he carries me every day, anyway!” -STC