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Elite Invincible hands Walker first Singapore Group 1 win
Michael Lee

Singapore champion trainer Mark Walker secured his first Singapore Group 1 success in the $1 million Giovanni Racing Charity Bowl (1600m) on Sunday, and for good measure, the stable quinella when Elite Invincible and Kingsman ran a thrilling 1-2.


The New Zealand mentor, who trained a host of Group 1 winners (20) back home from his former Matamata base, had somehow not been able to make his mark in such races at his new hunting ground since relocating to Kranji in 2010.


The five-time New Zealand champion trainer and two-time Singapore champion trainer has come close a few times, though. Most thought the floodgates would be flung wide open when his New Zealand Group performer Tell A Tale ran second to Risky Business in the Longines Singapore Gold Cup in 2010, barely a few months after he set up shop, but the ensuing tale proved to be different. 

Under Vlad Duric's hard riding, Elite Invincible goes to the line the best in the Charity Bowl on Sunday.

He also had Jimmy Rea finishing runner-up to Affleck in the 2015 Singapore Guineas, but overall, there were more misses than hits.


Besides, when one looks back at the records, the Walker name is not normally synonymous with massive Group 1 participation, let alone flashbulbs - unlike the other big guns like Laurie Laxon, Michael Freedman or even contemporaries like Cliff Brown or Alwin Tan in recent years.


Even his first Group success took a while to eventuate – Flying Fulton in the Group 3 Committee’s Prize in 2011. The Polytrack ace has since added four more among his previous haul of 11 ‘black type’ wins at his new turf, which still represented a decent record, but that elusive Group 1 zenith was still missing from his curriculum vitae - until Sunday.


The aptly-named Elite Invincible did give Walker a closer whiff of rarefied air with only his third Group 2 success when he captured the first Leg of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge, the Stewards’ Cup (1400m) on June 10.


But the wait was finally over when the never-say-die Irish-bred son of Archarcharch threw in all his might into the battle over the whole length of the Kranji straight to scrape home by a short head from his fast-closing stablemate Kingsman (Craig Grylls).


In any case, Walker did not need the judge to consult the photo. Either way, the Singapore Group 1 hoodoo had been broken as he could put on his big-occasion blue jacket on his way down to the winner’s circle.


“It’s taken a while, but that’s probably because I’ve had a lot of bread-and-butter horses over the years,” said Walker. “I don’t really have the quality, but in saying this, you never lose your ability.


“I have to say a big thank you to (assistant-trainer) Gus and Karen Clutterbuck who have been with me from Day 1.


“Thank you also to David Ellis (Te Akau Racing principal) who has supported me from the start. I must also thank the Elite Performance Stable as I couldn’t have done it without that lovely horse I feel so lucky to be training for them.”


By claiming the first two Legs, Elite Invincible has also picked up a bonus of $50,000, which could grow three times bigger if he makes the clean sweep in the third Leg on July 15, the $1.15 million Group 1 Emirates Singapore Derby (1800m). The winner of all three Legs gets a bonus of $150,000.


Backed down to $15 favouritism, Elite Invincible certainly looked like he had the race all stitched up when he swept to the front upon straightening, especially after enjoying an economical run in the box-seat behind stablemate Lim’s Regard (Walker’s third runner and ridden by Nooresh Juglall).


No doubt, there was some petrol left in the tank, but Elite Invincible is not the sort who wins by big margins.


On his offside, Hideyuki Takaoka’s Jupiter Gold (Olivier Placais) was shaping up as a major threat as he lengthened up with every stride, while Kingsman was also motoring home on the grandstand side.


Second-elect Countofmontecristo (Ryan Curatolo), on the other hand, could not rise to the occasion even though he had every chance from a cosy run in the box-seat. The son of Echoes Of Heaven must have given connections some hope he could take the race sponsored by his owner Joe Giovanni at the 300m, but he soon got the staggers when Elite Invincible collared him to eventually run fifth.

Bowled over: (from left) Owner Mr Aloysius Chew, jockey Vlad Duric and trainer Mark Walker.

Upfront, Elite Invincible was himself having his name tested, though. With Jupiter Gold nipping at his heels and the winning post taking an eternity to come up, jockey Vlad Duric could feel his mount vulnerable and exposed.  


More drama was in store when Kingsman, a horse Duric knows well, came lunging late, but the Singapore champion jockey never let up with the persuader, and on the line, was rewarded for his effort with Elite Invincible gaining the verdict by a short head on the photo print.


Jupiter Gold was gallant in defeat, finishing third another three parts of a length away. The winning time was 1min 34.31secs for the 1600m on the Long Course.


Unlike Walker, Duric was not at his first Singapore Group 1 success, but the vigorous Australian rider certainly had to earn every cent of his riding fee to add that fifth one to his growing collection.


“We had a good draw and I got him into a nice spot on the back of Countofmontecristo early,” said Duric.


“I popped him off the fence before straightening, and he moved up beautifully. But I had a few anxious moments when we hit the front a bit too soon.


“Mark had told me before the race that Lim’s Regard would be a horse to look out for as he would give some sight.


“But he hadn’t told me about Kingsman! Luckily we got there in time.


“Congrats to Mark and the boys who do all the work with this horse. I just jump on him in his gallops – it’s been a big team effort.


“Well done to Mark for his first Group 1 win here. It’s been an amazing run for him, he’s also won a couple of premierships.”


With five wins scooped up in eight starts, Elite Invincible, who won once in England (over the mile at Kempton Park) as Qatar Man and raced creditably in Dubai before being shipped to Singapore, has now seen his local prizemoney tip over the million mark for Aloysius Chew’s Elite Performance Stable.

Incidentally, Elite Invincible was bringing up a winning treble for Walker (after Dazzling Speed and Sacred Galaxy scored earlier, both under Ryan Curatolo) to vault him to the second spot on 30 winners, only one winner shy of Shane Baertschiger.