War Affair wins Stewards Cup

Michael Lee
The unthinkable was, for a few shaky seconds, not a remote possibility anymore when red-hot favourite War Affair came off a torrid run four wide and could not quite clear out as he normally does in the home straight, but cream rose to the top when the Singapore Horse of the Year forged ahead to win the $300,000 Group 2 Stewards’ Cup (1400m) rather comfortably in the end.

After his thrilling first-up win in the Group 1 Lion City Cup (1200m) a month ago, War Affair was considered a moral to secure the first Leg of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge, more so when the small eight-horse field did not feature any big guns and the seven-furlong trip would suit him better.

But the first signs of trouble surfaced when the hotpot, who started at prohibitive odds of $5.30, found himself three deep with no cover from the back with jockey Alan Munro left with no other alternative but to let him roll forward from the 800m as the field started to pack up behind race-leader and stablemate Happy Money (Shafiq Rizuan) as they approached the home turn.

Still, his legion of fans had no real reason to doubt the outcome as his superiority would surely overcome such adverse circumstances.

Not quite. The champ did sustain his searching run with his usual aplomb as he entered the home straight, tackling Happy Money at the 300m in a a heartbeat, but instead of gobbling him up and letting his signature blistering turn of speed take care of the rest, he seemed to be hitting a flat spot despite Munro’s vigorous urgings.

Happy Money, the second-stringer whose primary job was arguably to set a good tempo to the race, suddenly emerged as the unlikely giant-killer when he raised another gallop on the inside, while lurkers Knight Wager (Michael Rodd) and Hughsy (Corey Brown) could smell blood with War Affair looking decidedly vulnerable.

But such is the different metal smart horses are made of. Where other lesser horses might have come under, War Affair just kept knuckling down to the task, digging deep into his reserve to hold all comers at bay. The victory had been forged in more laboured fashion than predicted, but it is the end result that mattered.

Happy Money, a Polytrack short distance specialist not too long ago and who started with the second-longest odds ($182) after rank outsider Gobi Ranger (Craig Newitt, $612), fared better than expected by holding on for second spot with Knight Wager running on late for third another half-a-length astern. The winning time was 1min 22.71secs for the 1400m on the Short Course.

Tan, who was at his second Stewards’ Cup success after Speedy Cat in 2013, breathed a huge sigh of relief as he welcomed his prized warrior back to the winner’s circle under a drizzle at Kranji.

“I knew there wouldn’t be much pace in the race. The plan was to sit back while Happy Money sets a good tempo but War Affair was caught four wide after he dropped back,” said the Singaporean conditioner.

“It was still okay but when I saw him turning four to five wide and my other horse was kicking again, I was a bit worried. I didn’t expect them to be fighting out the finish on an equal footing, and there were other horses closing in as well.

“But he won and that’s what matters. He showed today he was the best horse in Singapore, and the bonus is I got the forecast (quinella).”

Munro agreed he might not have given the now 13-time winning four-year-old the prettiest of rides, but his faith in the horse he was only piloting for the second time (after the Lion City Cup) was hardly ever scratched at any stage of the Group 2 event.

“He had a bad trip in the run and ran deeper than I wanted for most of the way. We would have liked to follow Golden Brilliant and just slot in behind but we got stuck out there,” said the English jockey.
“We had to go early. We normally change gears at the 700m, but 400m from home we were in front this time.

“It was not easy for him. If he had some cover, it would have been easier for him especially as we were level on weights, but he still showed his class in the end.”

With that win No 13 now nicely tucked away, War Affair has amassed more than $2.25 million in prizemoney for the Warplan Racing Stable. With the 4YO Triple Crown clearly his main objective this campaign, the son of O’Reilly has three weeks to gear up for the Group 1 Patron’s Bowl (1600m) on June 21 while the ultimate prize remains the Group 1 Emirates Singapore Derby (2000m) on July 12.

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