Kok's ace trumped by wide gate, Latest Racing News - The New Paper

Kok's ace trumped by wide gate

Sabah Ace local trainer’s best hope among trio in Class 3 race but undone by bad draw

David Kok may have strength in numbers in the $70,000 Class 3 race (1,400m) on Feb 24, but he has been banking more on one third of his trio of runners.

However, after Sabah Ace drew the outermost alley in the 12-horse field, the Singaporean trainer has lowered his expectations significantly.

Suddenly, he may even have to hedge his bet.

“I’ve got three horses, Sabah Ace, Smart Star and Real Efecto in the Class 3 race. But, to be honest, my best chance was Sabah Ace,” said Kok.

“He’s in very good condition and has been working very well for this race. He just had no luck with the barriers.

“Now I am much less confident, but we still hope he can beat the odds and put in a good run.”

The horror gate has also derailed Kok’s plans to use the race as an ideal guide to any future four-year-old aspirations.

While the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge will not take place at Singapore’s farewell season, the three races that made up the series will still be run as standalone features.

Kok, who has been training at Kranji for 15 years, claimed the last two legs, the Group 1 Patron’s Bowl (1,600m) and Group 1 Singapore Derby (2,000m), with Well Done in 2016.

He has not quite plotted a path for Sabah Ace yet, but was adamant the 1,400m of this weekend’s event will suit him down to the ground.

“At his last start over 1,200m, he took a while to quicken up. He only got going late and ran third (to Flying Nemo, who is also in the Class 3 line-up on Feb 24),” said Kok.

“That shows he was looking for more ground, for the 1,400m. He ran only once over that trip, but drew 12 again and ran fifth (to Dream Alliance).

“I have no doubt he can get over more ground. But I was counting on this Saturday’s race to know where he stands if he is to run in the four-year-old races.

“That’s the plan for him, anyway.”

The first contest comes up on June 9, the Group 3 Silver Bowl (1,400m), followed by the Group 2 Stewards’ Cup (1,600m) on June 30 and the Group 1 Singapore Derby (1,800m) on July 21.

With regular partner A’Isisuhairi Kasim now plying his trade in South Korea, along with former fellow Singapore rider Wong Chin Chuen, Kok has handed the reins to Sabah Ace’s last-start pilot Amirul Ismadi for the next assignment.

If the stable were to fall back on the other two runners to step up to the plate should Sabah Ace fail, three-time winner Smart Star might be the one.

The Star Witness five-year-old has been successful in only middle-distance contests ranging between 1,600m and 2,000m, but Kok deliberately wanted to drop him back in distance this time round.

“Smart Star pulls hard in his races. I wanted a shorter distance to help him settle, especially if the speed is on,” said Kok.

“At his last start, he pulled hard when the pace steadied up. He was a bit one-paced in the straight, but he was still strong to the line.

“He’s also in very good condition. It’s the owner (Smart Bet Stable) who requested for (apprentice) Rozlan (Nazam) to ride him, the 4kg claim will help.”

The outfit is better remembered for its eponymous triple-Group 1 winner who claimed the Singapore Gold Cup and Singapore Derby in 2002, and Kranji Mile in 2001.

Benny Woodworth, who just broke his 2024 duck with a riding double on Feb 17, will ride Kok’s third runner Real Efecto.

But going on his recent runs, the Real Impact six-year-old looks safely held again, though he has sprung a few surprises among his six wins.

Like Smart Star, he prefers longer journeys, having saluted only over the mile and more. He was even a Singapore Gold Cup hopeful three times, but did not make the cut each time (2021 to 2023).

At his last start in a Class 3 race over 1,600m on Feb 11, he made a mid-race move when they stacked up the speed, but he could not sustain his run to finish seventh to So Hi Class.

“Real Efecto also needs a fast pace to be at his best,” said Kok, who also owns him.

“The race didn’t suit him last time. I can only hope for luck and he can bring some stakes money for us.”