Late gap sees Koonta rush home in nick of time

Halfway up the home straight, a “barricaded” Grand Koonta looked like he would be the certainty beaten of Sunday’s $85,000 Class 2 race over 1200m, but when seas eventually parted, he delivered the goods in his usual style to score by a short head in a nail-biting finish.

Grand Koonta winning the CLASS 2
Grand Koonta winning the CLASS 2 Picture: Singapore Turf Club

All week, trainer James Peters had been in two minds about taking the bold rise in grade for the two-time Class 4 winner.

The Englishman must have felt he made the right choice when the hooded Irish-bred four-year-old seemed to be travelling well within himself amongst runners in the small but select eight-horse field.

But that renewed confidence soon turned to despair when the runs didn't present themselves for the best part of the straight.

Jockey Alysha Collett just could not find a way out as they found themselves trapped behind a wall of horses. With Elite Power (Vlad Duric) having shut out the exit to the outside, the Kiwi rider switched back to the inside, eyeing off a gap between race-leader Special King (Simon Kok Wei Hoong) and Magic Wand (Wong Chin Chuen).

Galloping room was still in short supply as the two horses moved ever so slightly towards each other. Precious seconds were wasted while Elite Power had an uninterrupted run and was making a beeline for the post, but the moment Magic Wand rolled off under pressure, Grand Koonta ($13) exploded through to go and nab Elite Power right on the line.

Safeer (Benny Woodworth) rattled home from near last to take third place another three-quarter length away. The winning time was 1min 9.48secs for the 1200m on the Short Course.

Peters was a relieved man at the winner's circle. He was vindicated in his decision to test Grand Koonta  at a higher level, even if it took a few elevated heartbeats to get there.

"It's been a bit of a tough decision whether to run him. He was meant to run in a Class 3, and then I was not sure if stepping him up to Class 2 was the right thing to do," said Peters.

"Alysha rode him very well. She did well to have him relaxed in the early stages as he can be quite a keen horse.

"He was a little too aggressive and he got away with that in the lower grades. I changed his headgear just to get him to switch off better.

"Mick Lockett has spent a lot of time teaching him to switch off and it's paid off. I had my heart in my mouth in the closing stages, but thankfully, he got there.

"I'll probably look for another one of those handicap races for him, and if he makes the grade, I may then look at one of those feature handicaps later."

Collett, who was registering her second win at her Kranji riding comeback after she got off the mark with Bluestone on Friday night, said the son of Dark Angel was clambering on heels when they ran into dead ends.

"It was quite a tight compact field, but to his credit he ran relaxed mid-stage," she said.

"All he needed was a gap. We can't split the seas, but it comes up sometimes.

"The light weight (50kgs) also helped him today."

With that third win from five outings, Grand Koonta has now brought home prizemoney in the region of $120,000 for the China Horse Club.

Singapore Turf Club