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Ghalib takes the shortest way home

Burridge’s up-and-comer bounces back one week after Fortune Bowl scratching on Feb 11

Ghalib could have found himself in a sticky spot in Kranji’s main race on Feb 17, but sheer class saw the odds-on favourite safely home.

Barrier No. 1 can be a double-edged sword in a speed dash like the $100,000 Kranji Stakes A race (1,100m).

But the shortest way home turned out to be a boon for the $7 hot shot.

While his barrier manners were a query, Ghalib never turned a hair – both before and after loading – and more crucially, upon dispatch.

Out in a flash, he soon had company, though – Tim Fitzsimmons’ two noted on-pacers, Lucky Jinsha (Zyrul Nor Azman) in front and Illustrious (Jerlyn Seow) on his side, keeping him under lock and key.

Left with not much wiggle room, he might have walked straight into their trap. It did not help matters he was also reefing and tearing.

But, luckily, Manoel Nunes knew not just his horse back to front, but also one of his two “bodyguards”.

The Brazilian five-time Singapore champion jockey has partnered Ghalib to all his previous four wins, as well as Lucky Jinsha to half of his eight wins.

That “inside” knowledge proved to be key in Nunes’ ice-cold handling, and ultimately, towards a fifth win on the I Am Invincible four-year-old.

“I know Lucky Jinsha very well and I know he tends to roll off the fence. That’s why I wasn’t really worried where I was,” said Nunes.

“When a gap came up between Jerlyn’s horse and Lucky Jinsha, I committed to going to the outside.

“But when it closed, I ducked back to the inside. That’s when Lucky Jinsha got off the fence.”

Once the shackles came off, the Al-Arabiya-owned galloper careered away hard up against the rails. His rivals did not get a look-in.

Sacred Gift (Ryan Curatolo) warmed up late to cut the margin down to 1½ lengths, with Renzo (Bruno Queiroz) third another 3/4 lengths away.

The winning time was a slick 1min 03.92sec for the Polytrack 1,100m.

Steven Burridge was a little less chill than Nunes during the race, especially as Ghalib had until then handed the Australian veteran trainer his only 2024 win – a Class 3 race (1,200m) on Jan 14.

But after the issue was put beyond any doubt, a relieved Burridge could head down to the winner’s circle for his second visit.

“I was a bit worried during the race, Tim’s horses didn’t leave him an inch,” he said.

“This horse can be a bit funny, too, like being tardy at the gates. The main thing was to jump on terms, and he was good today.

“He’s an up-and-coming horse who has done everything right. He’s probably looking for more ground, up to 1,400m, which he’s won over.”

Being four, the Group 3 Silver Bowl (1,400m) on June 9 is a potential target, but Burridge would not put him past anything further at this stage.

“I’d definitely look at the four-year-old races, but I’m not so sure about the Singapore Derby (1,800m),” said Burridge referring to the Group 1 classic that has eluded him in 19 years at Kranji.

Nunes was also careful about taking the talented horse outside his comfort zone.

“Steve has done a great job with him. He’s a four-year-old, but he’s more of a sprinter,” he said.

“He can’t stay. He needs to settle better first.”

A first test at the elite level could have provided some answers on Feb 11, but a sharp encounter came in between.

“He was entered in the Fortune Bowl (1,400m), but he pricked his foot and was scratched,” said Burridge, referring to the Chinese New Year race won by Golden Monkey.

“It was okay as Harry (A’Isisuhairi Kasim) had jumped off him. I would’ve been without a rider.

“It’s also worked out good as he’s won this race today.”

Meanwhile, champion trainer and current leader Jason Ong again asserted his superiority with a second consecutive five-timer – and third overall in his young career.

Nature Chief, Pacific Charm, Roda Robot, Silver Dragon and Per Incrown replicated his Feb 11 haul, taking his score from seven to 17 wins in the space of two meetings.

He is well clear of Richard Lim and Daniel Meagher by nine wins.