Surge nabs California on the line
Trainer Leticia Dragon's progressive galloper has won two races consecutively, with more to come
Leticia Dragon is certainly one trainer who has a knack for maintaining her horses' form to win in succession.
Some examples: Nimble and Surpass Natural were unbeaten in their first five starts and Strong N Powerful won his last three in a row.
On Saturday, Dragon sent out Surge to win back-to-back after running fifth first-up - with the promise of a hat-trick looming and, with luck, more.
But success was by the barest margin - a nostril - in a thrilling last-bounce victory over California, denying South African Ryan Munger his first Kranji win as a full-term jockey.
Although it was a hard-fought victory, there was plenty of merit in the way Surge clawed his way to the line.
His triumph was made more impressive in that his scalps included trainer Mark Walker's exciting Sacred Gift, who went into the $50,000 Class 4 event over the Polytrack 1,100m as the favourite on the strength of his two-from-two record.
Surge, who arrived with a win (1,200m), a second and two thirds from 10 starts in Australia, made his debut with some support on Nov 17 over 1,200m on turf. He was not disgraced by finishing a smack-up fifth behind Pax Animi.
Reverting to the Polytrack over 1,000m on New Year's Day, the four-year-old bay gelding improved to score by a length over Thomas De Lago.
Dragon decided to keep her charge on the alternate track on Saturday and it paid dividends.
Ridden by regular jockey John Powell, Surge tracked California , who led by about 11/2 lengths. Jockey Benny Woodworth placed Sacred Gift within striking distance of the pair.
Munger kept the Ricardo Le Grange-trained California going strongly after straightening handily and looked to have the race sewn up.
But Powell persevered.
He threw in his all on Surge, who inched closer and closer. Sacred Gift looked a threat momentarily but failed to produce the kick that won him the double.
Powell kept Surge cutting down the deficit, placing his supporters' hearts in their mouths.
At the winning post, it looked like California had lasted, but the photo-finish revealed otherwise - Surge got it by a nose.
When her horse's number was flashed as the winner, Dragon heaved a huge sigh of relief. She said she would now run her "progressive horse" over a longer trip.
Powell said Surge had been going well and was probably unsuited by the turf and night racing on his debut.
Although he went into the race positive on Saturday, he feared Sacred Gift like most.
"So, you know, it's probably a little bit unexpected to beat Sacred Gift today, based on the form," said the Australian jockey.
"But, to his credit, he fought with a lot of heart and it was a good tough win.
"By the corner, I saw Sacred Gift was on my outside - three deep - so I thought, okay, he's the one that is going to come past me. Then, after we got into the straight, I couldn't hear Benny coming at all.
"I thought I could get past the leader in about another 150 metres but I couldn't - until the last stride, so I think this horse could still keep going up."