Only the die-hards were out this morning (Wednesday, 19 November) to see the international raider Spalato breeze around Sha Tin’s floodlit turf track shortly after 4:15 am. There was no take-your-breath away stretch blitz à la Lord Kanaloa, just a routine exercise from a horse primed for the fray and watched over by a trainer effusing calm confidence.
Spalato is Singapore’s new star; the heir apparent to Rocket Man’s vacant throne. Trainer John O’Hara is hopeful that on Sunday (23 November), in Sha Tin’s G2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Sprint (1200m), the unbeaten five-year-old will burst into the global spotlight as the South East Asian nation’s new international celebrity.
“He’s right at the top in Singapore - he’s the very best - he’s done it from 1000m right up to 2000m,” said O’Hara of the Elusive City gelding, who since winning on his Singapore debut over the minimum back in May, has strung together six wins, including the SG1 Patron’s Bowl (1600m) and the SG1 Singapore Derby (2000m).
“I think ability-wise he’s as good as Rocket Man, probably with a little bit more scope, because he can do it over different distances,” continued the trainer. “Until his last race, we probably hadn’t seen the best of him and I hope we’ll see the best of him here.”
That last start in the Luzerne Cup on 26 October produced a record time for the 1200m over Kranji’s Long Course and a wide margin victory. Spalato made virtually all under James McDonald, and when the Kiwi rider got serious 300m from home, the five-year-old responded emphatically, drawing clear for a four-length success from the previous record holder Faaltless. To give a little loose context, Spalato’s winning time of 1m 08.15s was the same as the mark achieved by Hong Kong’s Champion Sprinter Lucky Nine in this year’s G1 KrisFlyer International Sprint, although that was over 1200m of Kranji’s Short Course.
“His last race in Singapore was pretty impressive. He smashed the record time by more than half a second and we expect him to go well here,” said O’Hara.
“We thought he’d be tested that day because there was a record winner in the same race but he just did it so easily. He’s done everything pretty easily so we hope he can give everyone a good show in Hong Kong.”
Rocket Man, Singapore’s flag-bearing speed merchant of yesteryear, is the benchmark for Spalato. Pat Shaw’s charge, winner of the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen (2011), shared a dead-heat victory in the 2010 G2 Jockey Club Sprint before going forward to run second behind J J The Jet Plane in the G1 Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) the following month. Spalato is on the same trail.
“This will be his biggest test and will give us a guide as to how he might run in the International. The Jockey Club has been very accommodating and we’re here to run both races,” assured O’Hara, who as a travelling lad to his cousin, the late Ivan Allan, was one of the team that brought Colonial Chief to Hong Kong for his 1989 triumph at the Hong Kong International Races.
As for Spalato’s work this morning, O’Hara was happy, as was the gelding’s rider, Thavakumar “TK” Barnabas, who smiled broadly and gave the thumbs up as he trotted back toward the quarantine stables.
“He does this same routine into every race - if not’s broken don’t change it. It was just an easy gallop, nothing much because he’s done all the work in Singapore,” revealed the trainer after his charge was clocked at 58.1s from the 800m point and 28.7s for the final 400m.
“He’s travelled over here fine and he seems to have improved from Singapore. He’s appreciating the cooler weather here and is doing well in the barn. His work just now was pretty good, it’s what we expected. We’re very happy.”
Spalato will face the best Hong Kong has to offer in Sunday’s G2 test, which is the traditional lead-in to the LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint. Multiple G1-winning globetrotter Lucky Nine and this year’s two Dubai heroes, the G1 Al Quoz Sprint victor Amber Sky and the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen winner Sterling City, lead the home defence. Also among the 14 engaged are last year’s winner Charles The Great, and the emerging talents Aerovelocity and Peniaphobia.
Spalato has an easy gallop at Sha Tin Racecourse this morning.