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Nunes is back in business

Brazilian ace has not been as prolific of late, but four-timer puts him level with Queiroz

Champion jockey Manoel Nunes turned in a masterclass at Kranji on May 25, booting home four winners to keep his hopes of a sixth title well and truly alive.

The Brazilian maestro has dominated the Singapore riding ranks for several years, but many thought his stranglehold could be shaken in 2024 with the emergence of compatriot Bruno Queiroz.

Young and hungry, the 23-year-old from Rio de Janeiro already put the writing on the wall at his first season in 2023. Despite starting late in July, he scooped up 28 winners for a 18 per cent strike rate and eighth place.

Kicking off on level terms in 2024, Queiroz lived up to the billing by taking the race up to Nunes from Day 1.

The ding-dong battle between the old guard and the new upstart did not fail to fuel fans’ excitement as they went toe to toe in the first three months.

But Queiroz started to gain the ascendancy from April, as he garnered slightly more support, both in terms of quality and quantity.

The disparity did not go unnoticed. On some days, Queiroz would get a full book while Nunes, 48, uncharacteristically had some resting time between rides.

Going into the May 25 meeting, the standings read Queiroz on 33 wins and Nunes on 30.

Though Queiroz again picked up more rides – nine – none of them sat in odds-on territory, half-expected from an ordinary meeting after Kranji Mile day.

Sitting out two of the 10 races on the card, Nunes did not exactly have foremost chances either, except maybe for Flying Fighter in Race 2.

But the champ dug deep into his bag of tricks to turn four of them into winners, Super Bowl ($28), Wan Legacy ($171), Arya Pakuan ($19) and Per Incrown ($27) for a timely reminder he should not be written off too soon.

“For sure, this year, the competition is tougher, not with just Bruno, but also with Bernardo (Pinheiro), Marc (Lerner) and Ryan (Curatolo),” he said.

“For example, Tim (Fitzsimmons) supports me, but he’s been giving more rides to Ryan lately. Jason Ong is loyal, too, but some owners prefer Bruno, and that’s only fair.

“Don’t forget we have fewer horses and fewer trainers in this final racing season. It’s been less easy to get good support.

“No doubt, Bruno was three winners clear and he’s been getting strong support, but I was never worried.

“I turn up every week at the races. I just ride my horses with confidence, while hoping they have a chance to come through.

“Today, I only had some small win-place chances, especially in so many Class 5 races. Nothing special, one or two winners at best.

“Ironically, I thought Flying Fighter was my best chance, but he was unlucky. He had nowhere to go in the home straight, or he could have won.”

Nunes did not have much time to rue the one that got away, though. An early race-to-race double saw him bounce straight right back.

While he thought Super Bowl had an outside chance of opening his Singapore account for Ong in the $30,000 Class 5 Division 1 race (1,700m), he was completely caught off-guard by the Richard Lim-trained Wan Legacy in the $30,000 Class 5 Division 2 race (1,400m).

“Super Bowl was dropping to Class 5. I didn’t expect him to win, but he had a beautiful ground-saving run,” he said.

“But from barrier No. 13, it was hard to believe in Wan Legacy’s chances. The runs just came at the right time.”

Two unplaced rides then followed, before he saved the best for last with another double strike in Race 9 ($30,000 Class 5 Division 1 over 1,400m) and Race 10 ($50,000 Class 4 over 1,200m).

Arya Pakuan, a Sebring four-year-old he rode at his only previous win when under Stephen Gray’s care, was his next best after Flying Fighter.

“(New trainer) James (Peters) has freshened him up. He trialled very well for me last Thursday,” said Nunes.

“He is no world-beater, but he responded very well for a nice win in that Class 5 race.

“As for Per Incrown, the light weight (53.5kg) helped him, he just flew home.

“Four winners, that’s a nice surprise, but there are days like this when things just fall into place.”

With Fortune Star ($34) Queiroz’s only winner, the two riders are tied at the top on 34 winners, but with Queiroz still the leader on a countback for seconds.