A last conditioning barrier trial on Tuesday morning was all that trainer Stephen Gray needed for Hard Too Think ahead of his target race, the $1 million Group 1 Singapore Gold Cup (2000m) this Sunday.
The Kiwi handler does not usually trial his horses on the week of a big race, but the long interval since his last-start win in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (1800m) win on October 16 called for it.
“I always wanted to trial him today. Four weeks in between races can be tricky,” said Gray.
“He had a quiet week after the QEII Cup. He had one gallop last Tuesday and this trial today with the blinkers on will bring him on nicely.”
Ridden by regular partner Marc Lerner in the barrier trial, Hard Too Think settled at the rear, giving the early pacesetters a big start throughout, ambling along into fourth place, totally untested.
“It was more like a 500m gallop and I told Marc to keep riding him past the line. Effectively, he ran 1200m to 1400m,” said Gray.
“He’s an interesting horse. He shows no energy around the stables, he’s very relaxed.
“It’s not 2200m like in the old days. He will stay 2000m, a good miler can win the Gold Cup if he is fit.”
The All Too Hard five-year-old was always Gray’s Singapore Gold Cup horse, but on the way there, has picked up two other marquee race wins for good measure – the Singapore Derby and Queen Elizabeth II Cup, both run over 1800m.
While such wins might equate to huge ratings hike, Hard Too Think’s getting in at a low weight on 52.5kgs is a testament to Gray’s astute placing.
Gray who won one Singapore Gold Cup with Bahana carrying the postage-stamp weight of 50.5kgs (Craig Williams up) in 2016 when it was run over 2200m, still had a lot of respect for the opposition.
Past historical data favour lightweights in the handicap feature, but class sometimes transcends weights and measures.
“Daniel’s (Meagher) horse (Lim’s Lightning) is well weighted. I don’t think the weight (58kgs) will hurt him,” said Gray.
“Ricardo’s (Le Grange) horse (Katak) is a big improver. He showed it at his second place to Hard Too Think (in the QEII Cup).
“Michael Clements’ horses are also proven horses (Top Knight and Big Hearted the two leading hopes) that look well-weighted, but my horse is a young nice horse who’s still improving and I’m sure he can hold his own.”
Gray’s high regard for the five-time winner – who would double his stakes to join the million dollar club should he salute on Sunday – seems to stretch beyond those borders.
“I’ve nominated him for the Hong Kong Vase (December 12). I’m not scared to travel and have a crack,” said Gray whose previous overseas ventures include Emperor Max in the UK, and Lim’s Cruiser in the UK and Hong Kong, albeit without success yet.
“He’s a natural stayer, but because of COVID-19, we don’t know which horses will turn up, some could drop away.
“I’m also looking at the Saudi Cup meeting (February 26). It’s a big day and there’s a benchmark handicap race over 2100m for him.
“It’s quite a good programme and I’m talking to them now about the protocols. I have to look at these races as there aren’t many races for him here.”
However, Gray won’t be able to go to Hong Kong should Hard Too Think get the invite from the Hong Kong Jockey Club, but he’d be back from holidays when the Saudi Arabia race comes up.
Gray is not seeing out the Singapore racing season (which ends on November 27) as he heads back to New Zealand for over two months, straight after the Singapore Gold Cup.
“Bridget and I were lucky to get a quarantine space. We’re going home to see the kids who are in university there,” he said.
“I haven’t seen mum and dad for three years. In my absence, my assistant-trainer Lisa O’Shea will take over.”