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Wide gate seen as War Affair's only speed bump
Boonk Lim

English writer Sydney Smith once said that obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goals.

Wednesday morning’s Emirates Singapore Derby Post Position Draw saw likely odds-on favourite War Affair draw barrier 14, seen by many as the only thorn to the side of the Singapore Horse Of The Year in the 2000m showpiece.

These claims are not without basis. The son of O’Reilly drew a similarly wide gate in the 2014 Longines Singapore Gold Cup, and just could not produce his trademark swashbuckling turn of foot, probably also done in by the 2200m journey.

With that race still fresh in his mind, trainer Alwin Tan obviously would not want another case of deja-vu, but that does not mean he has lost sight of the winning post on Sunday - and a chance at rewriting the history books. 

War Affair seen here winning the Patron's Bowl on June 21.

“It’s of course a disappointment like it was after the Gold Cup draw,” said the Singaporean trainer.

“But unlike the Gold Cup when he had to carry 58.5 kilos because of the handicap, this Sunday everyone will be carrying the same weight. So this is an advantage.

"Based on his recent workout, he looks like he is in a much better shape, fitter and more mature than he was last year.

“We are not going to change tactics because of the draw. He’s a big horse with big strides.

"If he sits back he might get checked. That’ll be a bigger headache. Given the choice, I’d rather he runs three wide.

“The only thing I wish for is a dry track because the better grip will suit us.”

War Affair's jockey Alan Munro, a previous Singapore Derby winner aboard Better Life in 2013, added that class and pedigree do not change just because one gets a bad draw.

“The distance is not an issue for him. Neither is the competition as he will run his own race,” said Munro.

“The wide draw is unfortunate. To me, the race will be decided at the start.

"If I manage to squeeze him in, then the barrier number is not an issue anymore. If I can’t get him in, he will be four deep without cover for the rest of the race and he will have to be really good to win it.

“He’s doing okay at trackwork and is 100%. Everyone knows his quality. He’s a highly-rated horse at 117 points and his ability is no secret. This horse knows how to win.”

A good performance in the Singapore Derby will go some way in rubber-stamping his ability over the 2000m trip, which Tan is hoping could open the doors to an invitation to Australia’s Cox Plate (2040m) at Moonee Valley in October.

“We are planning to go to the Cox Plate, which is about the same distance and runs in the same direction as the Derby," said Tan.

"If we win the Derby this Sunday, it will give us more belief that he can run this distance.

“To me, the Derby is a different kind of Group 1 and is probably the closest domestic Group 1 to the international races in Singapore.

"It will be a big achievement if we can win this race. The prizemoney will also be the biggest that I have won.”

A win by War Affair this Sunday also means the Warplan Racing Stable-owned galloper would become the first horse to achieve a clean sweep of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge in its current format, not to mention claiming the added bonus of $150,000 for completing all three Legs.