Illustrious imperious again, even after plan B, Latest Racing News

Illustrious literally got off on the wrong foot when the gates opened, but the hot favourite was able to salvage the situation where it mattered – at the business end.

Tim Fitzsimmons’ speedy grey is at his best when he bowls along in front and takes no prisoners.

From a fair barrier No. 5 in the $70,000 Class 3 race over 1,200m at the all-Polytrack meeting on Saturday, he was widely expected to lead his 11 rivals on a merry chase.

But the script was thrown out the window when the $9 favourite was slow out of the gates.

The connections and his legion of backers gasped, holding their breath to see what the Top Echelon five-year-old would do next while I Am Sacred (Wong Chin Chuen) was the one who stepped up to take his customary role at the head of affairs.

Plan B for speed merchants who bomb their start is to let them glide through the pack towards the top end without spending too much petrol, since they are already on the backfoot.

Having a four-time Singapore champion jockey on the back also helps. Vlad Duric has mastered that skill down to a fine art.

By the 900m, Illustrious had snuck up on I Am Sacred’s girth. Then he swept past the tiring leader.

The earlier jittery moments were wiped off in one fell swoop. The almost white galloper nearly blotted his copybook, but was spared the blushes with yet another commanding win.

Songgong Hera (Simon Kok) boldly chipped away at the margin as he came vying for second place, but lost it by a nose to the fast-closing Quarter Back (Ibrahim Mamat), 1¼ lengths off the winner. 

Fitzsimmons admitted to having his heart in his mouth for most of the 1min 11.4sec Illustrious took to run the 1,200m.

“It was a painful watch. He’s a horse who can be a little anxious,” said the Australian trainer.

“When he was loaded late, I thought ‘great’, but then, everything went pear-shaped with the delayed start. He stood there too long, and he missed the kick.

“Luckily, he was able to recover and sit off the pace. He’s a horse with a lot of ability and who keeps improving with each run.

“I may give him one or two more runs and then give him a break. The Merlion Trophy will be perfect for him, I reckon.”

With all of Illustrious’ five wins from 14 starts scored on the all-weather, the Group 3 Merlion Trophy (1,200m) is a no-brainer. Ratings-wise, the winner of over $225,000 in stakes should get into the 80s banding after his easy win.

After a major reshuffle and cut-back in Group events, the Merlion Trophy is the only Polytrack feature race left in Singapore. It was omitted from this year’s racing calendar, but has been scheduled next year on Feb 4.

Illustrious’ win may have been a touch unorthodox, but it capped another prolific day for Fitzsimmons with a treble.

Buuraq ($13) and Ace Sovereign ($23) saluted earlier for Cliff Brown’s former assistant trainer, who has also wrested the lead back from Donna Logan, the lamplighter in the last three weeks. Fitzsimmons leads on 46 winners, one more than the New Zealander.

With 12 meetings left to the season’s conclusion on Nov 26, the trainer’s premiership may go down to the wire – with some even hoping for a longshot to spice up the finale further. 

On 35 winners after a double from Dixit Dominus and Pattaya, Michael Clements, is not that far away, but the 2020 Singapore champion trainer realistically faces a stiffer task than the other two.

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