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Debt Collector flies home in nick of time in Raffles Cup
Michael Lee

The old saying that form is temporary but class is permanent couldn’t have rung truer after Debt Collector came from nowhere to land the $1 million Group 1 Raffles Cup (1600m) by a whisker on Sunday.


The 2016 Singapore Horse of the Year, who actually captured the same feature race that year, but when run over 1800m as the second Leg of the Singapore Triple Crown series (now it’s the first Leg and shortened to a mile), was sent to Australia for a five-month rejuvenation stay after his form dipped last year.


Again, it was his sixth place in the same race, beaten by his less fancied stablemate Gilt Complex, that prompted the decision for an offshore break.  

Debt Collector (Michael Rodd) flashes home on the outside to deny Circuit Land (Hugh Bowman, No 1)
of victory by a short head in the Raffles Cup.

It was therefore a bit of poetic justice that the Thorn Park six-year-old owned by the Barree Stable picked that event to show he had lost none of those stellar qualities that had previously seen him bag eight wins, including five at Group level.


The telltale signs the old dash was back could not have been more evident after that encouraging first-up second to Preditor in the Group 3 Jumbo Jet Trophy (1400m) on August 12, 10 months after his last Kranji appearance.


Unsurprisingly, Debt Collector was again elected as the popular choice in Sunday’s race ($11), even if it was packed with the best middle-distance performers in the land, featuring 10 other proven Group winners, headed by Singapore Derby winner Jupiter Gold, Circuit Land, Clarton Super, Mr Clint and even stablemate Elite Excalibur.


Fans, including trainer Cliff Brown and connections, however, had their hearts in their mouths when the field cornered. Dropped out to last as he does, he was still last with 500m to go, and with about a dozen lengths to make up on leader Countofmontecristo (Franco Da Silva), who had opened up to what looked like an unassailable lead at the 400m – and said catch me if you can.


But Rodd had timed the champion galloper’s run with clockwork precision. The Australian jockey must have counted to 10 before coming around Preditor’s (John Powell) heels for that first exposure towards an unblocked run to the line.


In a scene reminiscent of his past grandstand finishes from the ruck, Debt Collector ravenously gobbled up the ground like time had come to a standstill. It still looked mission impossible as Countofmontecristo was gamely holding sway even if Circuit Land (Hugh Bowman) and Jupiter Gold (Marc Lerner), his two most immediate challengers, were chipping away at the margin, albeit more tradesmanlike than spectacular.


But 150m out, the bunny finally crumbled. The two chasers pounced on him, but they had not reckoned with the flashing bolt that befell them on their outside right at the last hop.


Though he was lugging in badly, a trait he sometimes showed in the past, probably because he is finishing with such a flourish that he is a bit all over the shop, he almost floated to the line once reined back in line, to finish in advance of Circuit Land by a short head. Jupiter Gold lost no marks with a fighting third place another half-length away while Countofmontecristo can earn plaudits for his run considering he did all the early bullocking work to just miss a podium finish by a nose.


As planned by Lee Freedman and jockey Daniel Moor, Singapore Guineas winner Mr Clint settled close to the pace from the handy alley, and did look half-a-chance well into the straight, but he stayed rather one-paced at the business end to weaken to fifth place another 2 ½ lengths away. The winning time was 1min 1min 33.47secs for the 1600m on the Long Course.


In the Brown camp, it was sheer relief and euphoria after their undisputed champion irrefutably answered all those questions whether that motor would roar back to life following that spell in Newhaven Park, New South Wales.


That last-gasp win could not have been a more resounding confirmation champions never die – and in his case, he may have even come back stronger as Brown astutely observed from his new imposing physique when he walked back into his yard back in mid-May.

Winning combination beams for the camera: (from left) jockey Michael Rodd, stable representative
Joanne Fitzsimmons, wife of assistant-trainer Tim Fitzsimmons, and trainer Cliff Brown.

But trust the low-key Australian handler, who was notching his third consecutive Raffles Cup, to play down his part in the gelding’s new lease of life. He just wanted to bottle up that moment, which was arguably even sweeter than the first two Raffles Cup he had won.


“This is amazing. It was a phenomenal win,” he began, struggling for words.


“Of course, I was concerned when he was so far back. We always have doubts, especially with the way this horse runs, but he was just fantastic in the straight.


“It’s been a funny old week as Michael had always been very confident, he said ‘we’ll just win’, but I wasn’t so sure as I’m such a pessimist.


“The horse went back to Australia, and we weren’t sure if it would pay off. The boys and girls at the stable have done an amazing job with him.


“I’ll just savour that moment. I will open that bottle of red with my wife tonight.”


As usual, the more in-depth dissection of the race was handed to the more loquacious riding partner. Though just as overwhelmed as Brown by the unreal occasion, Rodd was still able to describe the race to a tee while waxing lyrical about his special horse at the same time.


“When I saw Cliff just now (at the winner’s circle), I got quite emotional and had to hold it together,” said Rodd who was bringing up his ninth Group 1 silverware at Kranji since his first with Affleck in the 2015 Singapore Guineas at his first Singapore season, and his fourth with Debt Collector.


“I can’t believe what this horse has done today after his spell. It feels like a dream.


“After he came out of the barriers, he got back and had a trouble-free trip. He still can’t keep up with the early speed, but that flying finish is even stronger now.


“I rode him like he was the best horse in the field. I actually tried to channel a bit of Shane Dye in the way he rode those good horses in those weight-for-age races.


“They went solid in the last 600m, and I was quite surprised with that. I tacked onto Preditor, and I knew they would come back to us on the Long Course.


“I liked that he wanted to savage the other horse (Jupiter Gold), as I knew he’s competitive when he does that. I straightened him up and it was a soft win in the end; he could have gone another lap.”


Rodd, who scored a treble on Friday night, went on to repeat the feat when he went all the way aboard $325 outsider Murrayfield (he combined with Brown aboard Gold Reward earlier) in the penultimate event, the $80,000 Better Than Ever 2010 Stakes, a Kranji Stakes C race over 1400m. The prolific weekend (six winners) has seen him leapfrog over Olivier Placais to sit only five winners off leader Vlad Duric in second spot.


While he is going like a learjet at the minute, he is aware Brown, his No 1 supporter, had not had things quite his way this year, but to him, the team spirit mattered more.


“It’s been a bit of a quiet season for Cliff, but my priorities have changed over the years,” he said.


“I just like to ride for Cliffy. I have shifted my focus, instead of flying in and flying out, this is a lot more special to me.”


The Raffles Cup win – his ninth in 19 starts - has now taken Debt Collector’s stakes earnings to the $2.2 million mark for the Barree Stable.