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No more driving test for Lerner

After a third on pick-up ride Rocket Star, French hoop aims higher in Merlion Trophy

Jockey Marc Lerner does not ride all that often for trainer Ricardo Le Grange.

But a pick-up ride has led to the two men reuniting for another rare pairing – and in a Group event, for good measure.

The Frenchman might not have turned supersub aboard Rocket Star after Vlad Duric came down sick at the opening day on Jan 7, but the cracking third in a Kranji Stakes A over 1,100m on the Polytrack has earned him another nod.

Lerner gets another chance to steer the Star Witness six-year-old this Saturday in the $110,000 Group 3 Merlion Trophy (Poly 1,200m).

Convinced that the chestnut could have done better at that impromptu partnership, Lerner is relishing the second opportunity given by the South African.

“The 1,100m was a bit sharp for Rocket Star last time,” he said.

“He had a good trip. As we came to the home turn, I took a cart behind Lucky Jinsha, who was the horse to beat.

“But, when Lucky Jinsha stayed one-paced in the home straight, we were a fraction stuck in a ‘dead space’. He could not kick on as he usually does.

“We had to change lane to find room and he still ran super to take third place (to Ocean Crossing, who is also in the Merlion Trophy).”

The barrier gods have handed Rocket Star Gate 1 again, but Lerner is heading in with the benefit of hindsight this time.

“From barrier No. 1, we will have to be a lot more positive. We can’t afford to be worse than three pairs back,” he said.

“He is up against the top guns like Lim’s Kosciuszko and King Arthur. So we must be up close if we are to beat them.”

Lerner has thus far taken up a de facto role as Daniel Meagher’s – and by association, the Lim’s Stable’s go-to rider – since stable jockey Danny Beasley returned to Australia at the end of the 2022 season.

But the Merlion Trophy ride on Lim’s Kosciuszko first-up from his Hong Kong failure has gone to Wong Chin Chuen.

Saturday’s riding permutation came off a mixture of Wong – who won the 2022 Group 1 Lion City Cup (1,200m) with Meagher’s star – booking early and Le Grange having pledged support to Lerner in the wake of the off-the-cuff third place.

But, while nothing is cast in stone at this stage, the Merlion Trophy may bring some clarity.

Lerner, for one, is not thinking too far ahead. Though he has not sat on Rocket Star since, he is excited about Saturday.

“Rocket Star gave a lot of weight to other horses at his last race,” he said.

“This time, he’s at weight-for-age, and against some horses whom he beat in that race, too.

“The opposition is tougher, no doubt, but I think he’s got a good chance.

“I’m not sure if I’ll stay on after that, but I know Ricardo is very happy with the horse. He knows his horse, and I trust him.”

The two men are not unknown quantities to each other.

The Le Grange-Lerner combo did enjoy a purple patch in August 2021, when they brought up three (Water Rocket, Leatherhead and King Louis) of their total tally of four wins.

They last teamed up with Senor Don on Aug 18, 2021.

On the undercard, Lerner is otherwise pottering around with a spread of six other rides for his regular yards.

While he has singled out Rocket Star as his leading hope to pad up on his tally of three winners, he also rates the two Class 5 contenders, St Alwyn for Stephen Gray and Matsuribayashi for Hideyuki Takaoka, and Saturno Spring for Meagher in the Class 4, 1,800m as his next best.

“I don’t ride all that often for Ricardo. I hope I can get a good result for him in a Group race,” said the three-time Singapore Group 1 winner.

“St Alwyn is well. So, too, is Saturno Spring, even if Real Efecto is back in class and will be a threat.

“Matsuribayashi will love the course (Polytrack) and distance (1,800m), but every time I’m confident with him, he lets me down. We’ll see.”