The old saying that form is temporary but class is permanent couldn’t have rung truer after Debt Collector came from nowhere to land the $1 million Raffles Cup (1600m) by a whisker on Sunday.
The 2016 Singapore Horse of the Year, who actually captured the same feature race that year, but when run over 1800m as the second Leg of the Singapore Triple Crown series (now it’s the first Leg and shortened to a mile), was sent to Australia for a five-month rejuvenation stay after his form dipped last year.
It was therefore a bit of poetic justice that the Thorn Park six-year-old owned by the Barree Stable picked that event to show he had lost none of those stellar qualities that had previously seen him bag eight wins.
Fans, including trainer Cliff Brown and connections, however, had their hearts in their mouths when the field cornered. Dropped out to last as he does, he was still last with 500m to go, and with about a dozen lengths to make up on leader Countofmontecristo (NZ) (Echoes of Heaven), who had opened up to what looked like an unassailable lead at the 400m – and said catch me if you can.
But rider Michael Rodd had timed the champion galloper’s run with clockwork precision.
In a scene reminiscent of his past grandstand finishes from the ruck, Debt Collector ravenously gobbled up the ground like time had come to a standstill. It still looked mission impossible as Countofmontecristo was gamely holding sway even if Circuit Land and Jupiter Gold, his two most immediate challengers, were chipping away at the margin, albeit more tradesmanlike than spectacular.
But 150m out, the bunny finally crumbled. The two chasers pounced on him, but they had not reckoned with the flashing bolt that befell them on their outside right at the last hop.
In the Brown camp, it was sheer relief and euphoria after their undisputed champion irrefutably answered all those questions whether that motor would roar back to life following that spell in Newhaven Park, New South Wales.
That last-gasp win could not have been a more resounding confirmation champions never die – and in his case, he may have even come back stronger as Brown astutely observed from his new imposing physique when he walked back into his yard back in mid-May.
“This is amazing. It was a phenomenal win,” he began, struggling for words.
“Of course, I was concerned when he was so far back. We always have doubts, especially with the way this horse runs, but he was just fantastic in the straight.
“It’s been a funny old week as Michael had always been very confident, he said ‘we’ll just win’, but I wasn’t so sure as I’m such a pessimist.
“The horse went back to Australia, and we weren’t sure if it would pay off. The boys and girls at the stable have done an amazing job with him.
“I’ll just savour that moment. I will open that bottle of red with my wife tonight.”
Rodd was still able to describe the race to a tee while waxing lyrical about his special horse at the same time.
“When I saw Cliff just now (at the winner’s circle), I got quite emotional and had to hold it together,”
“I can’t believe what this horse has done today after his spell. It feels like a dream.
“After he came out of the barriers, he got back and had a trouble-free trip. He still can’t keep up with the early speed, but that flying finish is even stronger now.
“I rode him like he was the best horse in the field. I actually tried to channel a bit of Shane Dye in the way he rode those good horses in those weight-for-age races.
“They went solid in the last 600m, and I was quite surprised with that. I tacked onto Preditor, and I knew they would come back to us on the Long Course.
“I liked that he wanted to savage the other horse (Jupiter Gold), as I knew he’s competitive when he does that. I straightened him up and it was a soft win in the end; he could have gone another lap.”
The Raffles Cup win – his ninth in 19 starts - has now taken Debt Collector’s stakes earnings to the S$2.2 million mark for the Barree Stable. -STC