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Nunes all swept up by Cyclone

After long eyeing Gold Cup placegetter, ace jockey gets to ride him in the Raffles Cup

Manoel Nunes knew Cyclone was Cup material from the day he guided the former Sydney galloper to his only Kranji win in October.

But the Brazilian jockey had to wait for a return to weight-for-age racing to finally hop back aboard Tim Fitzsimmons’ promising middle-distance performer.

At his next five starts after that win in a Class 3 race over 1,400m at Kranji, Cyclone was always weighted around 51 and 52kg – which is below Nunes’ minimum.

This Saturday, the Pierro five-year-old lines up in the $300,000 Group 1 Raffles Cup (1,600m) with all 12 runners handicapped at 58kg.

Nunes did not have to put his hand up. The booking was almost preordained.

“After Cyclone ran well in the Gold Cup last year, I told Tim I’d like to ride this horse this year,” said the four-time Singapore champion jockey, who finished unplaced aboard stablemate Relentless in the November handicap feature.

“I have more or less committed myself to him, especially for the big races coming up – like this week’s Raffles Cup.

“The reason I haven’t ridden him since is because he was running in Kranji Stakes A races. I couldn’t make the light weights he was getting.”

Besides a cracking third to Hongkong Great in the Group 1 Singapore Gold Cup (2,000m), Cyclone did not quite take Kranji by storm, even with no weight on his back.

But Sydney premier trainer Chris Waller’s former two-time winner (when known as Wheelhouse) had excuses, including a questionable ride and distances that were short of his best.

Even the Raffles Cup’s 1,600m sits around the lower end of his comfort zone. The Singapore Triple Crown series coming up in the second half of the season is more up his alley.

But Nunes felt it was the ideal kickoff point to get their partnership back on the road.

“He needs more ground, he’s more of a 1,800m to 2,000m horse,” he said.

“But I hope it rains. Some ‘give’ in the track will help him.

“I galloped him last week, and he did it easy. He looks fresh and well.

“He’s drawn barrier No. 10, though. We may have to drop back in midfield as he doesn’t have enough speed to go forward to come across.

“On the short course A, it’ll be a bit tough as it tends to favour front runners. I’ll discuss with Tim.

“If he had drawn a good barrier, I would’ve liked to be in the first four or five.”

Nunes has been in the racing game long enough to learn to accept the cards he is dealt.

Not just barriers, but also rides – oddly enough, even for a jockey whose phone is always ringing off the hook.

Commanding the best rides can be a happy headache for jockeys of his stature, but the reality is he cannot ride them all.

“I actually had a few choices to look at in the Raffles Cup. But, as much as I ride freelance, Tim obviously puts me on most of his horses,” said Nunes.

“He also has Mr Black Back and Trumpy, but Cyclone was the horse I always liked, and (owner) Peter Lee is a nice guy who likes to have me on his horses where possible.”

But, to win the race, Nunes said Cyclone will have to beat the trio of usual suspects – Lim’s Kosciuszko, Katak and Hongkong Great.

“I know Katak trialled well and he has settled better since he was gelded,” he said.

“Hongkong Great ran a great race from barrier No. 15 and with the top weight at his last start. But he’s drawn wide again.

“Before the barriers came out, I thought Hongkong Great would have the best chance, but now I think Lim’s Kosciuszko will have an easier run.

“Lim’s Kosciuszko is often lucky at the barriers. This time he drew three. He’ll be the horse to beat again.”