Grand Koonta gets up to nail Elite Power
10-out-of-10 ride by Alysha Collett on James Peters-trained rising star in main Class 2 race
At the top of the straight, supporters of $13 favourite Grand Koonta must have thought that all was lost when their horse raced up to an equine wall.
Even Grand Koonta's trainer, James Peters, said he had his "heart in the mouth with 200 metres left to run when the gap closed" on his charge in Sunday's main event - the $85,000 Class 2 race over 1,200m.
But, all credit must go to New Zealand woman jockey Alysha Collett. She extricated the China Horse Club-trained four-year-old grey Irish-bred from the tricky situation and then capitalised on a lucky split to get up to beat his main threat Elite Power by a short head.
The gutsy victory was Grand Koonta's third from only five Kranji starts - he was second in his other two outings - and it endorsed the gelding as a top-class horse in the making.
Peters wasn't sure if Grand Koonta was up to the mark in Class 2 but was glad it worked out well in the end.
Both he and Collett reckoned the light 50kg handicap was a big deciding factor. The horse was also relaxed beautifully with the addition of earmuffs.
Special King went up to lead over a length from Curvature and Elite Power on settling down but jockey CC Wong, probably not happy with the slow pace, niggled Magic Wand up and covered Special King at the 800m mark.
Elite Power, a horse earmarked by trainer Mark Walker for the $400,000 Group 2 EW Barker Trophy over 1,400n in November, and Curvature were right behind.
Then came Dutrow and Grand Koonta. Safeer, who beat Grand Koonta by a short head last start on June 15, and Super Fortune brought up the rear.
Elite Power and Curvature came up on the outside to tackle the two leaders on straightening. Dutrow revved up wider to make it a line of five.
Grand Koonta charged up but found himself behind a wall of horses. Alysha angled Grand Koonta to the inside for a clear run. Her mount gave chase but soon found the gap between Special King and Magic Wand closing and Collett had to stop riding.
Luckily, the gap presented itself again when Magic Wand drifted outwards. Collett stepped on the gas again and Grand Koonta lunged.
But, by then, Elite Power had taken the lead and the bird looked to have flown. But Collett rode for dear life and got Grand Koonta up to beat Elite Power by a short head.
The winning time was a smart 1min 09.40sec.
"They didn't really set up a genuine tempo for us and it was quite a compact field," said Collett, of her second winner since returning for her current stint after her serious back injury suffered in a race fall last October.
"But, to his credit, he actually relaxed mid-stages and, when we came up the top of the corner, there wasn't really much room to go.
"All we needed was a gap and, luckily, we got that halfway up. The light weight helped in such a situation."
Peters was vindicated in going ahead to race Grand Koonta in the tough Class 2 event and he heaped praise on Collett for a gem of a ride.
"It was a bit of a decision whether or not to run him today, because we were looking for the Class 3 and we weren't sure whether the step-up to Class 2 was the right thing to do. But it has worked out well," said the Englishman.
"Alysha gave him a good ride in the early stages. He's been a keen horse and she got him to switch off and relax well, which was what we had been working on for the last five to six weeks.
"I was a bit of heart-in-mouth with about 200m to run when the gap got closed on him. But he got himself out of trouble and the light weight helped.
"He just wanted to do everything a little bit too aggressively and he got away in the lower grades. But I thought that was what got him beaten last time by Safeer.
"He just overraced the whole way. We had been working on trying to switch him off and relax, changed a bit of headgear - just put the earmuffs on just to try and get him to switch off - and I was really happy with how that worked today."
Peters has not looked further ahead for Grand Koonta, saying: "We'll hopefully give him another handicap type of race. Then maybe, if he still shines at the end of the year, we'll l ook for one of these handicap features or something like that."