Trainer Michael Clements is again getting Countofmontecristo to cross swords with the best in another mouth-watering clash on Sunday, but has two reasons to be a little more upbeat he can return to winning ways this time.
First off, the son of Echoes Of Heaven will strip a great deal fitter following his agonisingly close second to Blizzard in the Fortune Bowl (1400m) on February 6, first-up from a five-month break since his unplaced run in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (1800m) in September.
Secondly, and more pointedly, he jumps from the inside alley in the S$100,000 Class 1 race over 1400m.
Countofmontecristo has posted five of his seven wins by leading or sitting just off the leader. He drew 13 in the Fortune Bowl but jockey Glen Boss bounced him out quickly to take up a posie outside leader Affleck before taking it up the straight, only to be nosed out late.
From gate No 1, that extra petrol burnt from horses drawn off the track trying to come across is chucked out of the equation. He will be able to save it better for that long and narrow stretch to the line along the Long Course E.
“Obviously we were disappointed he was touched out late, but it was still a great run first-up,” said Clements.
“He’s pulled up in great order and has been working very well since. It’s a hot field again, but he’s drawn barrier No 1 this time.
“I still believe he’s better over 1400m to 1600m and he’s in very good shape at the moment.
“He also gets a few kilos off the topweight (Debt Collector on 59kgs). He’s in a great place, I’m very happy with the horse.”
Known for having had as many as 11 different jockeys in 19 outings, Countofmontecristo, who was reunited with his winningest partner, Glen Boss (five from seven) at his last outing, will again have the top Australian jockey in the saddle.
Following his brilliant second in the Fortune Bowl, the Joe Singh-owned galloper was being aimed at the Chairman’s Trophy (1600m), but Clements had to divert him to Sunday’s race after the feature race was postponed to April 7.
Though seldom far from the winning podium, Countofmontecristo has not saluted in 11 subsequent starts since his victory in the Jumbo Jet Trophy (1400m) in September 2017.
Clements saddles another classy horse in Sunday’s race in Alibi, who also made his racing comeback in the Fortune Bowl, but after a much longer break – nine months – finishing 11th, but only three and a half lengths behind Blizzard.
Clements has booked South African jockey Juan Paul van der Merwe – whom he provided with the first Singapore winner in Loving You last Friday - for the ride on the Darci Brahma six-year-old, but is not expecting miracles from the 2017 Patron’s Bowl (incidentally the last time he scored) winner.
“Alibi is really good, too, actually. He pleased me with his last run give he suffered some interference at the top of the straight,” said the Zimbabwean-born trainer.
“He’s a genuine horse who always puts in 100%. He was really good at his last gallop.
“That was the race I had planned for him all along and I think he’ll be a better miler this prep.
“Unfortunately, he’s drawn the outside barrier (14). It’ll be very hard for him to win, but I expect him to put in another genuine performance." -STC