Ghalib downs the Monkey, Latest Racing News - The New Paper

Ghalib downs the Monkey

Up-and-coming 4YO rolls hot favourite after ace rider Nunes stacks up the speed in front

A perfect tactical ride by top jockey Manoel Nunes on Ghalib foiled the plans of hot favourite Golden Monkey in the $100,000 Kranji Stakes A race (1,400m) on June 16.

Not many had been brave enough to tip against the 2023 Singapore Derby winner in a softer race made up of only four horses.

But it was precisely that small field, following the withdrawal of Ejaz and Senor Don, that might have caused his downfall.

As is often the case in such whittled-down fields, riding strategies come down to a battle of wits.

That is exactly how the first two-thirds of the race panned out, with Nunes the quickest thinker when he sent the Steven Burridge-trained sprinter to the front.

From there, he threw out the anchors, probably even showing a little too much zeal in restraining Ghalib – who had his mouth wide open while throwing his head up.

But it worked as the other three, including $7 shot Golden Monkey (Ryan Curatolo), had no other choice but to fall in line.

In such dawdling-run race scenarios, jockeys are often caught between a rock and a hard place – hold their spot and get left rooted there, inject speed and burn out.

General Command (Daniel Moor) was the only one with the pace to challenge for the lead, but he seemed content to follow in third on the fence, with Golden Monkey bringing up the rear.

Approaching the home turn, with all four jockeys not having really budged, it became increasingly clear Ghalib might have well and truly caught them napping.

They only woke up when Nunes cut the ribbons at the 400m, but were left with too little real estate to reel in the runaway leader.

Golden Monkey did quicken up when he finally came off the heels of So Hi Class (Koh Teck Huat) at the 300m, but Ghalib ($13) easily held him at bay by 1½ lengths. So Hi Class ran third another ½-length away with General Command last some distance away.

To illustrate the farcical pace of the cat-and-mouse affair, Ghalib ran a pedestrian 1min 25.12sec for the 1,400m on the short course, around 4.5 seconds off Super Ninetyseven’s record of 1min 20.58sec.

Burridge was sporting enough to acknowledge that the best horse may not have won.

But, whichever way you slice it, his charge has still won fair and square, albeit thanks to Nunes’ shrewdness and an ounce of luck.

“Golden Monkey is probably a better horse over more ground,” said the Australian handler.

“But all we can do is try and win. I left it to Nunes, only told him to jump and see where he’ll be.

“I thought General Command would lead, but he didn’t. Ghalib can also lead, he strides out freely.

“I thought Nunes could have let him stride a bit early, though, but it worked out good in the end. He had an easy run in front.

“He’s a rock-hard fit horse, he’s very honest and has a good record. He’s now won seven from 12 starts.”

Claiming the scalp of a Derby winner did get Burridge thinking.

“I may look at the 4YO series for him, maybe the mile race,” he said in reference to the Group 2 Stewards’ Cup on June 30.

“He ran over 1,400m in Australia, but he’s never been over the mile.”

The I Am Invincible four-year-old has now scored at his only two 1,400m races, but Nunes was still conservative in his post-race assessment, distance-wise.

“I was worried about the 1,400m because he’s better over 1,200m,” said Nunes who has partnered Ghalib to all his seven wins, three of which came over 1,200m.

“But it was a small field, and as nobody was going forward, I was happy to control the pace.

“At the top of the straight, I still had plenty of horse. I put two lengths on them, and he won well.”

Curatolo was disappointed Golden Monkey was rolled, especially as it was his first link-up with the seven-time winner.

“Nunes slowed up the pace. I found myself in a situation where I could not put any pressure on them,” said the French jockey.

“When they put two lengths on us, I thought I could catch them, but my horse could not accelerate. His horse was stronger today.”

Ghalib’s win capped a double for Nunes, who won earlier on Flying Fighter, enabling him to reclaim the lead on 38 winners in his ding-dong battle with Bruno Queiroz.

The five-time Singapore champion jockey took advantage of his fellow Brazilian’s blank day to skip one win clear on the log.