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Pacific Emperor has eyes on the Committee’s Prize

Rare Kok trial win tops stable star off towards second G3 win

David Kok’s horses do not usually come out all guns blazing at barrier trials.

Should the odd one out score, it may well set the stage for a real win one or two weeks later.

On Feb 29, stable star Pacific Emperor was heading for a midfield finish as the star-studded field in heat No. 2 packed up for the last 200m.

All the Committee’s Prize top seeds, bar Street Of Dreams, were up there – Tim Fitzsimmons’ pair of Golden Monkey and Dream Alliance, Prosperous Return, Invincible Tycoon and Tiger Roar.

Lim’s Kosciuszko, who was having his usual laid-back hit-out, was the only big gun not contesting the comeback Group 3 mile race on March 9.

But, just when a Fitzsimmons quinella was cut and dried, Pacific Emperor suddenly sprouted wings. He sliced through the field to deny Dream Alliance by 3/4 lengths, with Golden Monkey third, another head away.

A quick search revealed that the Caravaggio four-year-old did win one trial nine days before his Group 3 Merlion Trophy (1,200m) triumph at his first start (previously trained by Michael Clements) for Kok on Oct 28.

The more pragmatic Kok was more interested in the benefit from the run than the win, though.

“It’s well known my horses usually go for quiet trials,” said the Singaporean trainer.

“But I did tell (Vlad) Duric to give Pacific Emperor a bit of a squeeze late this time. It was a nice trial.

“I wanted to bring his confidence up, that’s all. He was a bit unlucky at his last start.”

If Pacific Emperor had a clearer run in the last 400m of the Group 3 Fortune Bowl (1,400m) on Feb 11, he could have finished closer than his eye-catching three-length fourth to Golden Monkey.

Kok could not really fault jockey Iskandar Rosman’s ride, but said such high-octane races, more so in a capacity field of 16, are better left in a safer pair of hands.

“He got checked at his last start. I think young local jockeys lack the experience in Cup races,” he said.

“There were no expert jockeys available at the time, as Duric had decided to ride Bestseller instead. So the owner put Iskandar on.”

Bestseller fared worse than Pacific Emperor in the Chinese New Year feature, running 10th.

Kok was not surprised who rang for the ride a few days after. The response could have been retaliative, but Kok bears no hard feelings.

“Duric is back on and was very happy with him yesterday morning. He said he was ready for the big race,” said the even-tempered trainer.

“The owner (Pacific Stable’s Jimmy Poh) wants to run his horse in every feature till racing stops.

“I haven’t booked Duric long-term for the other races, but I certainly wouldn’t mind putting him on right through.”

On paper, Pacific Emperor is only ineligible for three (the Three-Year-Old races) of the remaining 13 feature races on Singapore’s farewell racing calendar.

But, as the trainer, Kok will also need to weigh up other factors like timing, form, injury.

“The main targets are the Four-Year-Old races,” he said.

“After the Committee’s Prize, I don’t mind running him in the EW Barker Trophy (April 21) next, as it’s six weeks later.

“But I’m not sure about the Kranji Mile (May 18), as it’s only three weeks before the first Four-Year-Old race, the Silver Bowl (June 9).

“Other than that, we could give it a shot, even if I’m still not sure about the Gold Cup, though.”

A bold gamble in the 2,000m handicap did not pay off last November. He faded to 13th place, seven lengths off Lim’s Kosciuszko.

A retry is a long shot, though Kok has not ruled it out completely – especially as the 2024 renewal, the Group 1 100th Grand Singapore Gold Cup, marks the last day of Singapore racing on Oct 5.

“He never ran over 2,000m before the Gold Cup. He didn’t stay but, at least, he’s tried,” said Kok.

“It could be different now, he’s one year older. I actually train my horses to become more like middle-distance performers, like Well Done (2016 Singapore Derby winner), and now Smart Star, who’s won over 1,700m and 2,000m.

“The 1,600m of the Committee’s Prize will be okay. He ran on well in the Fortune Bowl and another 200m is not a problem.”