War Commander a first for American Pharoah in Singapore

War Commander became the first progeny by the history-making American Pharoah to race in Singapore, and win on debut for good measure, on Saturday.

WAR COMMANDER (No 14) winning the OPEN MAIDEN Picture: Singapore Turf Club

The Bob Baffert-trained American Pharoah (a typo of "Pharaoh" that was left unrectified) broke an American Triple Crown hoodoo of 37 years in 2015 when, after stringing up the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, he sensationally made all in the third Leg, the Belmont Stakes, to become the 12th horse in US racing history to make a clean sweep of the famed series, incidentally breaking a drought of Triple Crown winners since Affirmed in 1978.

The son of Pioneerof The Nile was retired to stud the same year, not before thrashing his rivals and breaking the 2000m record in the Breeders' Cup Classic to become the first-ever to complete that particular US Grand Slam.

With only three crops of foals having hit the tracks around the world, it's not surprising Kranji racing fans had not seen any American Pharoah brood reaching our shores, especially as we don't import as many Northern Hemisphere-breds, but when Coolmore sent him as a shuttle stallion to Australia, which is our main market, in 2017, it was a matter of time before his first crop came up here.

War Commander , an Australian-bred out of Snitzel mare, Snitzel's Jewel, was the first, and from the early positive reviews off his trackwork, everything pointed to a promising career, an impression which he indeed franked with victory under Manoel Nunes as the $12 favourite in Saturday's $20,000 Open Maiden (1200m), albeit in a gut-buster where he had to call upon every DNA molecule of his famous progenitor, to beat another debutant, Blazing Kid (Oscar Chavez), by a nose.

A fast-looming presence inside the last furlong, Dancing Tycoon  (Wong Chin Chuen) made it a trifecta for newcomers another short head away. The winning time was 1min 11.35secs for the 1200m on the Short Course on turf.

Trainer Ricardo Le Grange said he always knew there was an engine there, but had still remained guarded about any fireworks right off the bat.

"I have to say Manoel was very confident after his trials and gallops, but I was of the opinion there was still a bit of improvement left," said the South African trainer.

"I normally give my young horses two trials, but this guy had only one, but it was a good trial where he showed good form (second to Grand Koonta).

"Manoel's done a lot of work on him and also brought a couple of things to his gear. He was more bullish than me that he was ready to go.

"I didn't tie him down to any instructions today, but as he showed a lot of speed in his trackwork, we knew he'd be quite forward.

"It's the first American Pharoah to come here, and it's great he's won, too, on debut. He's looking for 1400m-1600m, and hopefully, he carries on an upward curve here."

War Commander is another new acquisition of one of Le Grange's staunchest supporters of late, Filipino owner Paolo Mendoza, whose late father Rodolfo started the successful association with Le Grange three years ago, most notably with Rocket Star. Other handy sorts, whom Mendoza junior took over as sole proprietor after his father passed away last year, include Leatherhead, Everest and Rocketship (who incidentally raced later).

The stirring two-horse showdown between War Commander and Blazing Kid did also reflect the current standing on the jockeys' log where before the race, Nunes and Chavez were tied on four winners, but the nose-win has now allowed Nunes to edge clear.

Whether this is the tipping point to most pundits' prediction about the 2022 Singapore champion jockey title returning to Nunes by a long chalk remains to be seen. Such speculations would also be premature at only the third meeting, but the Brazilian three-time Singapore champion jockey is certainly riding like a man on a mission.

He went on to extend the lead later with a second winner, $9 favourite Illustrious for new ally Tim Fitzsimmons in the $75,000 Novice race over 1200m. Yet again, it looked easy enough to the untrained eye, but in truth, Nunes had to pull a few tricks of the trade to keep the wayward grey on a straight trajectory in the straight given his inclination to lay onto race-leader Rocketship (Zyrul Nor Azman) into the home straight.

Once Nunes gave a few digs in the ribs, in the right place, at the right time, the Top Echelon four-year-old kept his mind on the job to eventually salute with two lengths to spare on Rocketship. A debut winner in easier Open Maiden company, Attila (Matthew Kellady) did well to run third another three-quarter length away. 

The winning time was 1min 11.48secs for the Polytrack 1200m.

Singapore Turf Club