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Gold cup bidder Back in the Black

Mr Black Back wins over 1,400m on turf, shrugs off first-up loss over Poly 1,200m

A Wagga Guineas win on the resume may not scream top-notch material, but Mr Black Back could well be a long shot for a much bigger prize at Kranji.

Known as Maranoa when trained by Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott in Australia, the son of Snitzel claimed the 1,600m country feature in south-west New South Wales in 2021. 

But it was probably the overall handy record of two wins and three placings from only six starts that caught the eye of well-known Singapore-based talent scout Josh McLoughlan.

With a path already plotted towards contests over 2,000m (second) and 2,400m (unplaced in the Queensland Derby), he had the makings of a Singapore Gold Cup contender.

However, the time-honoured classic comes up in six weeks’ time on Nov 19 and, on his initial 67 rating in Singapore, the Gold Cup looked a pipe dream.

But, after Mr Black Back’s convincing all-the-way win in Sunday’s $50,000 Class 4 race over 1,400m, he got a hike of six points.

Tim Fitzsimmons’ sliver of hope of seeing Mr Black Back sneak in at the minimum weight (50kg) has widened ever so slightly.

“We’re racing against the clock to get to the Gold Cup,” said the Australian trainer, who already prepares Gold Cup fancy Relentless.

One of Mr Black Back’s assets that Fitzsimmons is banking on is his stamina.

“I watched some of his replays in Australia. He’s much better when he is stretched over further and gets rolling,” he said.

“He wants to get to 1,600m and 2,000m. He’s bred to stay and is another nice horse Josh has found.”

On debut in a Polytrack race over 1,200m on Sept 10, Mr Black Back dropped to the rear of a small field but pinched some ground to finish third.

Vlad Duric, who also had the steer in the Class 4 race, put a line through that first introduction to Kranji, even before he dismounted from the Black House Stable-owned gelding.

“It was a bit of a balls-up on the Poly. It was way too short and I think we rushed him as we had bigger plans in store for him. He needed a gallop,” said the mercurial Australian rider.

“He’s progressed a lot since but today’s race was still too short. 

“I couldn’t pull him up after the line.

“Tim will take him straight to 1,800m next, and that’s better.”

The winning time, 1min 21.35sec, shaved 0.16sec off the class record set by Imperium in 2020, but Duric explained stayers can run slick times when circumstances lend themselves to such feats.

“They ran at a true gallop. I got a lot of pressure from Jerlyn (Seow on Implement),” said Duric.

“He wanted to back off but I gave him a squeeze just to keep the pressure on.

“I was worried at the 600m as he wasn’t going too well. But, to his credit, he went through his gears and kept going.

“He’s a very progressive sort looking for more ground. We’ll have plenty of fun with him.”

After cutting short his 2021 season for health reasons last October, the four-time Singapore champion returned to Kranji in June and has certainly had a lot of fun.

Besides Mr Black Back ($10), he also scored on Knight Love ($18) to bring his tally to 24 winners in only 79 rides for an outstanding strike rate of 30.4 per cent.

Currently in fifth place, moving up another two ranks is not an unrealistic goal with eight meetings left in the season.

But that was probably unthinkable when he came back halfway through the 2022 season.