Peters wins first Group race with Titanium

Michael Lee

Young trainer James Peters claimed his first feature race win after Titanium plotted a winning path to the line as the widest runner in the $300,000 Group 2 Stewards’ Cup (1400m) at Kranji on Sunday.

The 31-year-old Englishman and former assistant-trainer cum senior track rider officially began operations on April 1 in a seamless switchover from trainer Michael Freedman given the majority of the horses he helped apply the polish to were now 100% under his care.

Some may argue that given the quality and quantity of the horses Peters inherited from the Australian trainer (now in Sydney), it was a matter of time before he got his name up in lights in a big race, but such stripes are not earned on paper, but on the track.

Peters nearly got off to a dream start with the same Titanium, though, two days only after he launched, when beaten a head by longshot In Fact in the Group 3 JBBA Moonbeam Vase (1800m).

The Tavistock four-year-old has since been spelled, and that freshen-up was exactly what Peters was capitalising on at his racing comeback in the first Leg of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge.

The horror gate in 15 did not ruffle him at all as Titanium is well known to be a swooper. The change of rider after Manoel Nunes was stood down was also just a minor kink. He managed to get an able pair of hands in A’Isisuhairi Kasim, who besides riding for Peters a fair bit, ticked another more noteworthy box - he rode Titanium once and it was to a fast-finishing third three runs back.

Getting the perfect pairing in the bumper 16-horse field was only a small battle won. The bigger battle was the race itself, but Titanium simply proved to be made of another metal on that day.

As agreed with Peters, A’Isisuhairi quietly parked Titanium at the rear and never looked in a rush to improve while the usual suspects for the pacesetting job rolled along upfront.

Kiwi Karma (Vlad Duric) led after overcoming her wide barrier, but she soon confirmed the fears of those who thought she was a touch suspect over seven furlongs. Rank outsider Bring Money Home (Mohd Zaki) briefly courted with a most unlikely upset of the applecart when he was the first to collar the mare upon straightening, but as brave as his run was, his time at the top was shortlived.

The challenges were then hailing from everywhere. Next in the running line were Spanish Bay (Shafiq Rizuan) and Affleck (Rueven Ravindra). Both were kingpins during their three-year-old era, but one year on, the torch has obviously been passed, as they both folded noticeably to finish at the rear.

Down the middle of the track, gifted mare Believe Yourself (Alan Munro) stuck her neck out while favourite Lim’s Rally (Glen Boss) was creeping up from midfield along the rails, but his hopes were blown sky-high when he copped a heavy check at the 300m as a weakening Poseidon (Corey Brown) came wobbling into his path.

But even if Lim’s Rally had had a clear run, it is unlikely he would have matched the gale force 10 that was rushing home on the opposite side of the track.

Taking a cart from Polytrack ace My Lucky Strike (Antonio da Silva), whom many thought would struggle on turf, Titanium had all along circumnavigated the field towards the standside part of the track for his final assault.

The two outsiders locked horns for an end-scenario to the Stewards’ Cup not many would have foreseen, but it was Titanium who finished the best as he drew clear for a most authoritative 2 ½-length win from My Lucky Strike.

Believe Yourself ran third another short head away, a head in advance of Majestic Moments. Completely ignored in the market at huge odds of $197, Titanium ran the 1400m on the Long Course in 1min 22.54secs.

At the winner’s stand, Peters was as usual a picture of calm that belied his young age and relative inexperience. Even if Titanium, a third of his three-pronged attack that also comprised A La Victory (John Powell, 11th) and Spanish Bay (14th), had largely slipped under the radar of many pundits, his trainer had never left his corner.

“He’s a horse who goes very well fresh and has a very good turn of foot. All he needs is a hard pace upfront to finish it off,” he said.

“I was never bothered by the wide draw. He’s a horse who gets back and I know he can really let down.

“That’s what I told Harry (A’Isisuhairi). Get back and let him come into the race as the race unfolds.

“We’re definitely looking forward to the mile and the Derby now.”

The second Leg of the Challenge is the Group 1 Patron’s Bowl (1600m) on June 19 while the grand final, the Group 1 Emirates Singapore Derby (2000m) will be run on July 10.

Nunes would be back in the mix then, but one young man who is definitely entitled to put his hand up for the ride after such an outstanding job was A’Isisuhairi.

The former two-time Singapore champion apprentice jockey does not command as many rides now as during his claiming days, but was glad he made the most of the opportunities like that impromptu one aboard Titanium to bring up his fourth Group win and third Group 2 win (previous were Trudeau in the 2013 EW Barker Trophy, 2014 Wild Geese in Queen Elizabeth II Cup).

“I got a phone call from James and he told me he had a good ride for me in the Stewards’ Cup,” recalled the Kelantan-born New Zealand-trained rider.

“It’s worked out perfect and a big thank you to the owners and James for believing in me. Opportunities like that, winning a pick-up ride in a Group race, can only help build my confidence.

“I know this horse well as I rode him once. He’s been running good races, and I thought he had a chance even if he was running in strong company today.

“From the bad draw, I had to just let him run relaxed at the back. The plan was always to drop back and go for an uninterrupted run on the outside in the straight.

“The pace was on and it suited my horse, and it’s worked out good. I just didn’t think he would win by such a big margin.

“He wants to go for more distance, and I sure would love to ride him in the other two Legs.”

Peters has three weeks to decide who will jump on the Graceland Stable-owned gelding in the Patron’s Bowl, but will definitely not rule out the jockey who gave him his first Group win.

“Unfortunately, Manoel could not ride the horse today, but at the same time, he’s won many Group races and it’s good for Harry to win one today,” said Peters.

“When Manoel was stood down, there weren’t many jockeys left, but I was actually surprised Harry was available. I had no hesitation in putting him on as he’s a good jockey and he’s also ridden the horse before.”

Regardless who gets the nod for a horse who has now suddenly sprung to the frontline of Derby calculations, Peters will just take time to savour that defining moment that has come so early in his fledgling career, but not all that unexpectedly.

To him, horses maketh the trainer no doubt, but winners don’t come without hard work either.

“When Michael went back, he left with some quality horses for me to take over. I’m very grateful most of the owners have stuck with me and supported me,” said the London-born man.

“I’ve been very lucky I was given the best opportunities so early in my training career, but it’s also been a lot of hard work that began since January and that involved all my stable staff. This win is not just for me, it’s for the whole team.”

With that sixth win and four previous minor placings, Titanium has now banked in more than $460,000 in stakes earnings for the Graceland Stable.