A boilover win out of left field has not only saved Sky Rocket from a float trip to Malaysia, but also earned him a ticket to a Group 3 race this Saturday.
Through a combination of poor form and bad luck, the one-time Singapore Gold Cup favourite (2018) had been sliding towards that “has been” hole of oblivion in recent times.
With the last of his previous four wins recorded in September 2018, it’s been a long time between drinks for the horse his Sabah owner Patrick Lau had high hopes he would one day emulate his 2007 Singapore Gold Cup winner Recast.
Trainer Stephen Gray has, however, been twisting Lau’s arm to give the Darci Brahma seven-year-old one more chance after each defeat, but he squandered the next one with another defeat each time – 12 all up.
Resigned to the knowledge Lau would eventually run out of patience, Gray booked a spot on the next shipment across the border, but still took a last throw at the stumps in a Class 3 race over the mile on November 21 while waiting for the trip to be confirmed.
What was meant to be his coup de grace turned into his saving grace, thanks to a timely form resurgence that saw him outswim a handy field on a waterlogged track at the massive odds of $208.
“The owner had almost given up on him. He would’ve been on his way to Malaysia if he didn’t win at his last start,” said Gray with a chuckle.
“He’s actually a nice galloping horse who has been running good races, but things just didn’t go his way. I was convinced the ability was still there.
“He didn’t surprise me he won, even if he’s had a strange prep. After he bled (in last year’s El Dorado Classic), we got him going again, but then COVID-19 came.
“He ran first-up in a 1200m race and he then ran well in a mile race (September 26), but he then ran terrible in a 1800m race.
“We thought let’s drop the Singapore Gold Cup, and we then ran him in a Polytrack race (1600m) instead. It rained that day, he got back and took a lot of kickback, it was an atrocious race, but I thought he still ran well.
“Then came that 1600m race four weeks ago. It poured but I told the jockey (Marc Lerner) the horse was fit, get back and see what he does.
“It’s only after that win that I thought why not run him in the Polytrack race (Colonial Chief Stakes).”
Such impromptu decisions may not conjure up the systematic prep underpinning a targeted race, but Gray was actually not treading into uncharted territory.
“He won on Poly once (September 2, 2018) and two years ago, he should have won another when Barend Vorster rode him, and it was in the Colonial Chief Stakes itself,” said Gray.
“He couldn’t get a run, he was held up on the fence. So, I guess he doesn’t mind the Polytrack.
“If it rains it’s better for him. He likes a bit of give on the grass and on Poly, he will find his toes on the ground.”
Gray has unsurprisingly kept Lerner on Sky Rocket for the $150,000 Colonial Chief Stakes (1600m) even if the French jockey is not his usual go-to rider, especially in feature races. They have so far combined for only two wins, Sky Rocket and Kharisma the week before, but there are a few hints that stat may improve soon.
“Young Marc rode him very well that day. He’s a good rider,” said a clearly won over Gray.
“When the weights came out (53kgs), I knew the poor guy would have to do it tough this week!”
The former German-based Lerner rides comfortably at 55kgs, but is always prepared to sweat off those extra pounds if a live chance in a big race comes his way.
“I think Sky Rocket has a good chance and that’s why I think it’s worth losing weight for him this Saturday,” said Lerner.
“When I rode him the last time, he was quite impressive. He quickened very well for me.
“He’s a very good horse. It showed in some of the past videos I watched, like his Gold Cup run, and more recently, that good race (the September 26 race) with (Gray’s apprentice jockey) Winston (Cheah Wei Wen).
“Besides, there are no world beaters in the race, it’s quite an open race. I don’t think the Polytrack will pose any problem either, I saw his run with Vorster, he should have finished closer.
“But I know he’s a horse who also had his issues. If he stays sound and healthy, and he reproduces the same form as last time, he should be in with a winning chance.”