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Bakeel peaking at right time

After 3rd over 1,200m and 2nd over 1,400m, Burridge’s 3YO aims for 1st in Guineas mile

Trainer Steven Burridge’s quest for that elusive three-year-old feature win will come down to one last bullet in the $150,000 Group 2 Singapore Guineas (1,600m) on May 18.

In Bakeel, the Australian actually trains one of the favourites to the 2024 renewals, but the son of Sioux Nation has come up short thus far.

Blinkered for the first time in the Group 3 Singapore Three-Year-Old Sprint (1,200m) on April 6, he did muster speed from the rear.

But, when he let down for regular partner Manoel Nunes inside the last 200m, greenness got in the way. He still ran a gallant third to Ace Of Diamonds.

At his return back up in trip to the 1,400m of the Group 2 Singapore Three-Year-Old Classic (1,400m) three weeks later, Burridge slapped the winkers back on.

The tinkering of headgear bore fruit on April 27. A more focused Bakeel went straight as an arrow when he unwound, but the winning post came a touch too soon.

After enjoying a soft lead, Lim’s Bighorn (Marc Lerner) hung on by a short head.

The natural progression from third, then second, as the trip stepped up in 200m instalments in the first two legs, may suggest Bakeel was peaking at the right time.

Burridge had all along pitched Bakeel as a Singapore Guineas horse, even if he had never ventured beyond 1,400m.

The Sprint and Classic had been more like a means to an end, but a welcome bonus had he won either or both.

“Bakeel ran very well at his last start. I was very happy with that run,” said the veteran handler.

“He’s going into the Guineas like the 1,600m should suit him. He’s always been looking for 1,600m.”

With the curtain coming down on Singapore racing on Oct 5, the Singapore Guineas will be Burridge’s last chance to fill one of a few gaps on his glittering CV.

In 15 years at Kranji, Burridge has won several features, headlined by the 2010 Group 1 Singapore Gold Cup with Risky Business and the 2006 Group 2 Queen Elizabeth II Cup with King And King when he was presented the trophy by the late monarch herself.

His only claim to 3YO fame was 1997 Tiger Beer Triple Challenge clean sweep winner Southerly Wind when he worked as assistant trainer to Mick Kent.

Burridge is not too fussed over such boxes to tick. He also saddles a trio made up of Street Of Dreams, Invincible Tycoon and Cavalry in the even richer $1 million Group 1 Kranji Mile (1,600m) on May 18.

He just felt that, after being stiff a few times, the Al-Arabiya Stable-owned Bakeel more than deserves a first Group hurrah.

“He’s a very good horse, but he’s still a bit green, and is still a big baby. Nunes rides him every day to educate him,” said Burridge.

“On Tuesday, he had his last gallop. Nunes gave him an easy time and he’s come out of it well.

“He has come through his last run in great order.”

With seven of his 11 Singapore Guineas rivals having also run in the Classic, and only Boardroom boasting some form among the other four new additions, the formline is easier to work out.

Still, the in-form trainer, who currently sits in sixth spot on the log on 15 winners – 27 behind leader Jason Ong – would rather not be too cocky.

“He’s got a good chance to finally give me a first Guineas, but it’s a very competitive race this year,” said Burridge.

“Lim’s Bighorn beat us in the second leg because he had an easy run in front, but you still have to respect him.

“Don’t ignore Ace Of Diamonds, who was caught wide at his last start. He’ll still be hard to beat.”

Bakeel has drawn barrier No. 7, which is neither here nor there, but the general sentiments are still bullish.

“Of course, we wished we drew closer but we’ll work it out. When he jumps, we’ll ride him as the race unfolds,” said Burridge.

“The Guineas is a fairly open race this year, and Bakeel is in with a good chance.”

manyan@sph.com.sg

HORSE RACING