Trainer Stephen Gray knew he was nearing a milestone but not even the optimistic Kiwi could have envisaged four winners by race nine on Saturday to bring up his 800th winner in Singapore.
Tributo (Manoel Nunes) started the golden run with a win in the $20,000 Open Maiden over 1200m in race 5, before Prioritize (Wong Chin Chuen) made it a race-to-race double in the $50,000 Class 4 race over 1700m.
Retallica (Marc Lerner) brought up the treble in the $30,000 Class 5 Division 2 race over 1200m, before Infinite Wisdom (Marc Lerner) made it 800 winners at Kranji for the big Kiwi conditioner in the $30,000 Class 5 Division 1 race over 1100m.
A good afternoon for all concerned but Gray was not done with yet with the promising Silent Is Gold putting the icing on the cake by winning the feature on the day – a $70,000 Class 3 race over 1200m – to make it five winners for the stable.
The Buddy Buddy Stable-owned four-year-old had been finding it tough to win of late but it was hard to argue with his honest form – often with excuses – leading into Saturday’s assignment.
But a well thought out plan and a confident ride by jockey Ronnie Stewart had the son of Star Turn settling as anticipated on the back of Iron Champ (Krisna Thangamani), with clean air a factor.
However, the ($9) race favourite, General Command (Nunes) was stalking him throughout but Silent Is Gold ($13) looked to be cruising when taking the lead heading into the straight.
Stewart kept his powder dry until the only real challenger – General Command -made his claim at the 300m but when the Australian hoop got busy, Silent Is Gold responded like the good horse that he is, with a relatively comfortable half-a-length victory.
General Command would have lost no admirers keeping the winner honest to the wire with Moongate Star (Saifudin Ismail) doing best work late to claim third, another one length away.
The winning time was 1min 08.90secs for the 1200m on the long course and Silent Of Gold’s fourth win took his prizemoney to a shade over $155,000.
For Gray – who also trained 411 winners in partnership with his father (Kevin Gray) in New Zealand before setting up stables in Singapore in 2000 – the 800 win milestone was a testament to his determination and his 801st a taste of things to come.
“To be honest, this time last year I was looking at where I was heading,” said an emotional Gray after the last.
“It has been incredibly tough the last few years – not just for me but all trainers – so just to survive in this industry has been an achievement.
“So 800 winners in Singapore is a big thrill. Not just for me but for my family (wife Bridget, son James and daughter Kate) who have made Singapore their home for the last 23 years or so and supported me from the start.”
A big part of that family support was from Bridget who, like her husband, did not see the milestone coming so soon.
“Bridget was thinking about coming to the races today in case we cracked 800 but I told her we are not going to train four winners,” he continued.
“I was right – we got five! But it was a real shame Bridget wasn’t here as she has been such a big part of this operation since day one.
“We set goals when we arrived in 2000. One of them was to train 1000 winners and for me to train until I’m 60 years-old, so we are getting there.”
Another big part of Gray’s longevity and success is l oyal owners. So to bring up his 800th winner in the St George Stable colours for Paul Hickman was extra special.
“I couldn’t think of a better owner (Hickman) to bring up the milestone. It made it all the more special. Very emotional. Not just a loyal owner but also a good friend of the family. He supported us through covid, for which I’m so grateful.”
Of Silent Is Gold, Gray was confident going into the race, but relieved with the result.
“He (Silent Of Gold) did well today,” he said.
“I was quietly confident – the race looked very suitable and we know the horse is capable – but it was nice how it panned out.
“To be honest, I thought he might be my only winner for the day. So for him to be my fifth was the biggest surprise.
“Pleased for the owners. Pleased for Ronnie as his daughter (Dakota) has been unwell lately. And pleased for the horse as he deserved a win.
“He has upside too. Horses’ like him is what makes it easier to come to work every morning.”
Gray – who turns 59 in November – becomes the youngest trainer to bring up 800 winners in Singapore and only the fourth to do so behind the legendary Laurie Laxon, Pat Shaw and Stephen Burridge.