By Michael Lee – One week after fretting over odds-on favourite Bold Thruster desperately seeking the line in the Group 3 JBBA Singapore Three-Year-Old Sprint (1200m), trainer Shane Baertschiger endured more heart-stopping moments with another hotpot, Mikki Joy.
Except that this time, the Australian handler’s stress was eased by the certainty of banking in the winner’s and runner-up’s share of the $85,000 prizemoney up for grabs in Friday night’s The New Paper Cup 2019, a Class 2 event over 1600m on the Polytrack.
After settling in a perfect one-out one-back position, short-priced favourite ($8) Mikki Joy was shaping up as a foregone conclusion for a third win on the bounce when jockey John Powell sent the Japanese-bred seven-year-old entire to an outright lead at the 300m of the newspaper-sponsored race that was making a comeback since its last staging in 2012.
Usually at that juncture, Mikki Joy, who was at his first Polytrack test, lowers his head down and just flattens to the line uncontested.
Not this time, and that challenge was being fashioned by a most unlikely foe – his own stablemate, old stager Blue Swede (Michael Rodd) who, after coursing out wide for most of the way, was looming large in his pink silks on the outside.
It was certainly no friendly fire as, for a second, the less-fancied Baertschiger had the greater momentum and was ready to swamp the first-elect with ease, but Mikki Joy just does not buckle. As soon as Blue Swede drew on level terms, and probably even edged past ever so slightly, that Japanese feistiness was sparked to life.
The duo waged a stirring ding-dong battle that would have either half of Team Baertschiger willing their own protégé to the line, while Baertschiger (he actually owns Blue Swede) himself would probably be hoping for a dead-heat.
But the photo print tipped towards market logic. Mikki Joy won by a hair’s breadth from Blue Swede while What’s New (Ben Thompson) finished the best of the rest in third place another 1 ¾ lengths away. The winning time was 1min 38secs for the Polytrack mile.
“It’s been five weeks between runs for Mikki Joy, and he is clearly better on turf,” said the quinellaeing trainer, who incidentally was the last winning trainer of The New Year Cup with El Milagro in 2012.
“JP rode him well. I told him to get off the fence, they had a perfect run, even if he was a bit flat-footed on the Poly. But full credit to him for the way he stuck his head out for the win.
“The old boy ran great, too. He is a rising nine and nearly caused an upset; Michael gave him a great ride.
“They will both go to the Moonbeam Vase at their next start. We’ll see how Mikki Joy goes and then it could be the Kranji Mile, that’s the plan.”
The son of Deep Impact is one of 17 local entries at the first round of nominations for the $1.5 million Group 1 Kranji Mile (1600m) on May 25, along with four entries from Hong Kong, last year’s inaugural winner Southern Legend, Singapore Sling, Pingwu Spark and Rise High.
To Powell, the 2000m is a better distance for Mikki Joy, even if all his five wins in Japan were recorded over the mile, including one on the dirt in Tokyo.
“He’s a lovely horse and he tries hard all the time,” said the Australian jockey.
“I thought he was a touch too close tonight, but Shane had him well prepared and he really toughed it out.
“Blue Swede is a very good horse I know well, but luckily, the photo went our way.
“I told Shane that the best distance for Mikki Joy is the 2000m. He is a Gold Cup horse.”
The Group 1 Dester Singapore Gold Cup (2000m) is the third Leg of the Singapore Triple Crown series and will be run on November 10.
With that third success, Mikki Joy who amassed more than US$700,000 in stakes in Japan, has already made more than $140,000 for the Middle Kingdom No 3 Stable of Mr Jayven See, who also co-owns Mikki Joy with the Ultima Horse Club.