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Night to remember for Circuit Land, Freedman, Maia
Michael Lee

Friday night’s $500,000 Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy (1600m) turned out to be a milestone event for three names in one hit – Circuit Land (horse), Lee Freedman (trainer) and Ruan Maia (jockey).


Circuit Land, a horse who raced at the highest level in Hong Kong, was bringing up his first victory at his second start at Kranji, and in a Group race for good measure.


Freedman, an Australian Hall of Fame trainer who needs little introduction and has won countless accolades at Group level both back home and overseas, was at his first ‘black type’ win since he set up base at Kranji in September 2017 when he took over from nine-time Singapore champion trainer Laurie Laxon almost lock stock and barrel. 

Circuit Land (Ruan Maia, No 7) bears down on Infantry (Vlad Duric) for a gun win in the Chairman's Trophy.

He did win the now-defunct Group 1 Singapore Airlines International Cup (2000m) with Mummify in 2005, but as the trainer of an overseas contender.


And last not least, it was also a grand premiere for Macau-based Brazilian jockey Ruan Maia, whose feat was probably even more astonishing. The 29-year-old was at his first and only ride at Kranji and he certainly didn’t muck around, hitting bullseye on the $41 shot.


The US-bred seven-year-old by Mizzen Mast did give a sneak peek of the class that saw him win five races and place 16 times, many times against the crème de la crème at Sha Tin and Happy Valley, when sixth at his Kranji debut in the Group 3 Committee’s Prize (1600m) on March 18.


That first outing under the belt must have worked wonders because he certainly came out firing on all cylinders in the Chairman’s Trophy, a testament to Freedman’s peerless polish, not only as a big-race trainer, but as a master conditioner who can bring a new horse to his peak in only two runs.


Settled by Maia in an ideal one-out one-back position, Circuit Land tracked $13 favourite Infantry (Vlad Duric) till the top of the straight where he was peeled out for his challenge.


Infantry looked like he would finally bounce back to winning ways as he easily put leader Laughing Gravy (Barend Vorster) in the shade at the 400m, but an imminent threat was fast approaching in the unlikely shape of Circuit Land who had come around three wide, while Committee’s Prize winner Elite Excalibur (Michael Rodd) was also turning on the afterburners at the rear.


For a while, it looked like Infantry, the 2017 Singapore Horse of the Year, would be able to fend off that insolent challenger from Hong Kong, but Maia proved to be even cheekier as he went head-to-head with the reigning Singapore champion jockey in a cliffhanger of a finish inside the last 300m.


After a few smacks of the whip on Circuit Land’s nearside shoulder, Macau’s current leading jockey realised he was not pinging as expected. He immediately switched to hands-and-heels riding 100m out while Duric was at his usual supreme best, vigorously wielding the whip as he does, to extract every drop of petrol left in Infantry.


Two contrasting styles, but both just as effective. It was, however, the absolute beginner who outsmarted the Kranji kingpin this time around, as Circuit Land lunged on the line to edge Infantry out by a head.


A gallant Elite Excalibur ran home stoutly but had to settle for third place another three parts of a length away. The winning time was 1min 35.64secs for the 1600m on the Long Course.

Connections all smiles after Circuit Land's triumph: (from left) owner Ngo Tai Tak, trainer Lee Freedman
and jockey Ruan Maia.

Freedman might have won 124 Group 1 races in his feted training career, including five Melbourne Cups, but he still saw that first accolade at Group level at his new home as a significant moment.


“I’m very proud of winning my first Group race in Singapore. I’ve won many Group races in my career, but this is a real thrill,” he said.


“This horse ran a great race in the Committee’s Prize. He was always travelling in the gun run and I’m really thrilled for the Hong Kong owner (Dey Ngo Tai Tak who also has the unraced Circuit Winner with Freedman).


“It was an astute decision to bring this horse here. There’s not much of him, but he competed against very good horses in Hong Kong.


“It was getting a bit tough for him there, and he’s come up here and won a half-a-million dollar race.”


Prepared by trainer Danny Shum in Hong Kong, Circuit Land competed against the likes of Beauty Only, Helene Paragon and stablemate Seasons Bloom at Group level. Even if he never won any feature race, he held his own creditably.


However, after three unplaced runs in the new Hong Kong season, including one in the Korea Cup (1800m) in Seoul last September, Ngo decided to send the Hong Kong four-time winner (1400m to 1650m) to Freedman in Singapore in a bid to resurrect his career.


Friday’s triumph certainly vindicated that bold move, even if a substantial part of that success indisputably bore the mark of a jockey not many Kranji racegoers had heard of before his class act.


At his first full season in Macau after relocating from Sao Paulo – the cradle of many previous Brazilian greats to have ridden at Kranji like Joao Moreira, Manoel Nunes, Vagner Leal, etc - in September 2016, Maia currently sits on top of the heap on 40 winners, and is right on target towards his goal of claiming the premiership this season.


“Thank you so much to the owner and the trainer. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to ride here for the first time, and to win at my first ride in a Group 2 race is even more amazing,” said Maia.


“I saw this horse’s last race and he ran well even if he had some problems. I had him in a good position in the race, but I didn’t want to go too early as I noticed he had a short burst.


“At the top of the straight, I came around the favourite, but I waited and waited and it’s only in the last 200m that I pushed him. He responded very well and was very brave to the line.


“It’s not only my first time riding here, it’s also my first time visiting the country, and to win tonight is so, so very special. I’d like to dedicate that win to my wife Erica who is in Brazil.”


Already a stakes winner of close to US$1.2 million in Hong Kong, Circuit Land has already pumped in around $270,000 into his new Singapore account.