Smart Star: Longer the better, Latest Racing News - The New Paper

Smart Star: Longer the better

Two-in-a-row from rising stayer a testament to trainer Kok’s stamina-building strategy

Budding stayer Smart Star showed that his recent maiden win over 2,000m was no fluke, after back-to-back wins on Dec 2.

The Star Witness five-year-old was again successful in Class 4 company, but was this time dropping back in trip to the Polytrack mile.

Such sharp transitions can test horses, especially those relatively inexperienced customers with only nine starts under the belt like Smart Star.

Trainer David Kok was aware of such pitfalls, but backed his judgment about Smart Star’s adaptability.

Drawn off the track as opposed to barrier one at his maiden win, Smart Star ($17) still enjoyed a smooth journey in a one-out, one-back position.

Race-leader Ace Sovereign (Vlad Duric) pinched a commanding break at the top of the straight.

However, Smart Star reeled in the well-backed commodity halfway up the straight, but had to dig even deeper to repel Free Fallin’ (A’Isisuhairi Kasim) by ½-length inside the last 100m.

Ace Sovereign had every chance but had to settle for yet another minor placing, this time a third spot – his eighth in 38 starts – another 1 3/4 lengths away.

The winning time was 1min 39.34sec for the 1,600m on the all-weather.

At the maiden win, Smart Star also wore blinkers, but, to Kok, the real clincher was the gelding’s stamina.

The Singaporean trainer, however, said that a stayer is not built in one day.

“The thing with stayers is to keep giving them more runs,” he said.

“Physically, they need to get stronger, and we also keep their confidence up.

“That’s why it took a while for this horse to hit his best form. The blinkers also helped, but it’s his stamina that made him win his last two races.”

Kok would have avoided a 400m drop-down if he could help it, but quite often, mile races are still within a stayer’s compass.

“There was no race for him. So, we still went for that 1,600m race,” he said.

“I told Amirul (Ismadi) to settle just behind the leaders. The horse pulled quite a lot.

“Amirul knows this horse inside out. That’s our third win together and he’s been riding for us for only one month.”

The joy and relief were noticeable when the Malaysian journeyman punched the air in delight after the line.

Coming off a chequered freelance career interrupted by suspensions, Amirul looked like he would finally get his breakthrough as one of leading trainer Jason Ong’s stable riders around August.

But the early promise was only fleeting. He rode two winners, but soon fell out of favour with Ong and his owners, who parted company with him in October.

He was, however, quick to bounce back with another job at Kok’s yard, but knew he had to live up to that second chance.

“I was relieved I got the job done. I’ve been working hard for David, I’ll be back working tomorrow on Sunday, and it’s great to get the results,” he said on Dec 2.

“The step-down from 2,000m to 1,600m was not ideal, and the draw in seven was not ideal for a stayer like him.

“At first, I couldn’t get in, and when they steadied up the pace, he pulled. I was also worried a couple of horses would sprint up.

“But when the pace picked up, he settled down and came back underneath me.

“He gave a nice kick in the straight. I was worried when Harry’s horse (Free Fallin’) came breathing down my neck, but my horse held on well.”