Mr Malek wins life’s race: Beat cancer, Latest Racing News - The New Paper

Mr Malek wins life’s race: Beat cancer

Burridge stalwart back in form after neck tumour surgery, contests the Kranji Sprint

Imagine running around a track with a tumour the size of a big potato in your neck.

It cannot be much fun – whether you are a human or a horse.

Mr Malek was in such a predicament for about half a year.

With zero win since his zenith in the Group 2 Stewards’ Cup in July 2021, the son of Swiss Ace had baffled all concerned.

Regular partner A’Isisuhairi Kasim could feel something amiss but, just like trainer Steven Burridge, could not put a finger on it.

“When I worked him last year, I told Steven he can hang really bad, something was not right,” said the Malaysian jockey.

Luckily, the root cause of his average runs did not go undetected.

Not just because it solved the puzzle, but it also saved his life. It was cancer, which is rare in horses.

No effort was spared to rid Mr Malek of the disease. The operation was a success.

“It started as a small lump in June, but it was before the Gold Cup (November) that we noticed it was getting bigger,” said Burridge.

“We took a biopsy after the Cup as he was getting uncomfortable, and it came back as cancer.

“But it wasn’t into the bone or sitting outside. That gives us some chance for a while.

“So, hopefully, for a while, he may race a lot better. If they could talk, we would be in a better position, but his attitude seems better.”

For human cancer survivors, to get a second chance at life is already a win.

A return to the highest level in a sport would be nice, but not a priority for most.

But the Oscar Racing Stable’s only remaining horse (they sold the others during Covid-19) has made a remarkable racing comeback.

Not quite fairytale because he did not win the Group 1 Kranji Mile (1,600m) on May 20 at his very first post-surgery contest.

But a rattling third to Lim’s Kosciuszko in record time (the first three broke Lim’s Lightning’s old record of 1min 33.25sec for the long course mile) was as good as it gets to a run of epic proportions.

“His last trial was very good, but it was still hard to say how he’d go first-up over the mile,” said Burridge.

“I still expected him to run good. I was very happy with his run.”

Two weeks later, the brave galloper gets another chance to rewrite the Singapore racing history books – as, possibly, the first equine cancer survivor to win a Group event, let alone a race.

The Swiss Ace six-year-old figures among the small field of eight horses set to battle it out in the $110,000 Group 3 Kranji Sprint (1,200m) on Saturday.

The 1,200m is short of his best, even if the first five of his eight wins were recorded over that trip when he was a speedier three-year-old and four-year-old.

But Burridge was loath to rest a horse who has already been staring at four walls for six long months.

“I wouldn’t be running him this week. But there wasn’t much else,” said the veteran Australian trainer.

“There’s a Class 2 race over the mile next week, but he would have carried 59kg.

“I threw him in the Kranji Sprint entries some time back. They then extended the deadline because they didn’t have enough runners.

“The field was not that strong, so I decided to leave him in.

“He didn’t do much, I just kept him fresh. For a horse who’s already been in his box for six months, he only needs racing.

“He has not raced that much, anyway, but he’s come back better than he was the last time he raced. He’s nice and bright.”

A’Isisuhairi has no doubt the tumour was the thorn in the side of one of his pet horses, more so after the record-breaking first-up run.

Now that it has been removed, he was as excited as a child on Christmas morning.

“He’s a different horse now. After his surgery, he gave me a different feeling from the way he travelled, the way he worked,” he said.

“He was dealing with so much pain. He was forcing himself to work, but now, he’s happy and is enjoying himself.

“In the Kranji Mile, they went hard early. I got him to switch off and relax.

“But, from the way he trialled, I knew he was fit and would finish on top of them.

“The 1,200m is too short. But there are no superstars in the race.

“He is training so well. I believe he’ll run a big race again.”


Zahra on Monkey in Silver Bowl

Australian jockey Mark Zahra keeps chalking up the Melbourne-Singapore miles.

A regular short-term Kranji visitor since 2018, the 40-year-old Melbourne-based jockey will ride under a one-day Singapore Turf Club licence at the Silver Bowl meeting on June 11.

He is booked on Golden Monkey for trainer Tim Fitzsimmons in the Group 3 Silver Bowl (1,400m), which is the first leg of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge.

At his most recent visit, Zahra finished unplaced aboard Sacred Croix in the Group 1 Kranji Mile (1,600m) on May 20. He still won one race on the undercard, atop the Donna Logan-trained God’s Gift.

A week later, he won the Group 3 Lord Mayor’s Cup aboard Without A Fight for trainers Anthony and Sam Freedman at Eagle Farm.

A much younger Zahra plied his trade in Singapore from 2004 to 2006, bringing up a haul of 23 wins, including his first Group 1 success aboard Mayo’s Music in the 2004 Raffles Cup.

He has since added three more wins at his more recent flying visits, highlighted by the 2022 Group 1 Singapore Gold Cup (2,000m) with Hongkong Great.

All in, he has chalked up more than 1,300 winners in 25 years of riding, including 27 at Group 1 level, the most famous being the 2022 Melbourne Cup with Gold Trip.

Licensed by Racing Victoria, Zahra currently sits in ninth position on 27 winners on the Victorian metropolitan jockeys’ premiership.

He goes to scale at 57kg.

Mark Zahra will be calling at Kranji again on June 11.