War Room goes boom after MIA for 609 days
S. African-bred’s solid return from bowed tendon is career highlight for Fitzsimmons
If a mantelpiece is the perfect snapshot to a trainer’s career highlights, a Singapore Derby and champion trainer trophies would then be up there taking pride of place for Tim Fitzsimmons.
Stable hero Golden Monkey gave the Australian his first Group 1 success in July, while the 2022 title in only his fourth season is any trainer’s lifelong dream.
But on Saturday, a seemingly mundane win gave Cliff Brown’s former right-hand man the same goosebumps, even without any silverware as validation.
A $50,000 Class 4 race over 1,000m is hardly the backdrop to a moment worth bottling up.
But War Room coming off the fence at the 350m to take the gap en route to a 1½-length win was a sight that Fitzsimmons is still replaying in his mind.
The South African-bred six-year-old is good, but is arguably no Golden Monkey – at least not yet.
“It is not the destination – or performance per se, despite the slick 59.02 seconds – it’s the journey” may be an old cliche, but to Fitzsimmons, it was truly all about the labour of love.
As a juvenile unbeaten in three starts in South Africa back in 2020, the world was his oyster. But an inordinate amount of time on the sidelines shortly after has seen the son of Judpot race only twice since.
On Saturday – at that second start – War Room was back to the races after 87 weeks or 609 days, hence the trepidation around the long overdue comeback.
“It’s probably my most rewarding win all year,” said Fitzsimmons as he recalled the untimely injury that led to the protracted absence.
“Michael Clements had him first, and he came to me after one start.
“I trialled him twice, and unfortunately, he bowed his left tendon really badly.
“I spoke to the owners and told them the only way to get him back is to give him a really long break.
“Such injuries take more time, even more so in Singapore where we don’t have any access to a beach.
“The owners were amazing and left it to me. (Racing manager) Josh McLoughlan puts no pressure on me, and that makes all the difference.”
A first-up defeat in January 2022 at his only start for Clements could have given Fitzsimmons second thoughts about his ability upon taking delivery a month later.
But the patient horseman also knew an early three-from-three record cannot be a fluke.
To get McLoughlan’s – who also manages Golden Monkey – latest charge back on track was a new challenge he was dead-set on taking on.
“After we brought him back from the bowed tendon, we tipped him out again. We tried a totally different method with him,” he said.
“We gave him eight trials and he was never off the bit. We used the trials to get his fitness back.
“We finally found a race for him, but it was a big unknown how he would run after such a long time and with 59kg on his back.
“For a horse to win three races back in South Africa, take 18 months to get here via Mauritius and France, have only two runs in nearly four years and win first-up after 87 weeks, it’s a phenomenal effort.”
Typical of his selfless attitude towards his stable’s success, Fitzsimmons did not give just himself a pat on the back.
“I couldn’t have done it without my staff. They’ve worked tirelessly, especially with the amount of time they’ve spent on this horse, the icing,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate Vlad (Duric) couldn’t ride him after he got injured (on Volcanic who played up in the gates in Race 2) as he’s also done a lot of work on him.”
Replacement rider Ronnie Stewart was the lucky jockey to reap the rewards, but it was by no means just a sit-and-steer job.
“Ronnie did a great job on him,” said Fitzsimmons.
“I told him to lead on the horse. With barrier one on Poly, if you miss the kick, you end up three back on the fence.
“Ronnie did ride him out vigorously, but the horse was not able to lead. But even after he sat behind the leader (Fighting Hero), he was too good in the end.”
While Fitzsimmons played it safe by waiting for a Class 4 race over 1,000m to come up, he may be a little more adventurous one day.
“He’s won all his three races over 1,000m in South Africa, but from the way he was going away from them today (Saturday), I think he can get 1,200m,” he said.