Singapore trainer Stephen Gray was happy to help out a fellow kiwi this morning as his HK$20 million Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint contender Lim’s Cruiser “buddied up” with the Chris Waller-trained Comin’ Through for a stroll down the Sha Tin straight and reconnaissance of the saddling paddock.
“Least we could do, I’m sure Chris would do the same for me,” Gray said after ‘lending’ one of his three on-hand stable employees to Comin’ Through’s rider Madelyn Hoffman, to assist in leading the HK$25 million Group 1 Hong Kong Mile hopeful to the enclosure.
Comin’ Through looked relaxed and possibly as appreciative of the company as his rider. The Waller-trained horse is stabled alone whereas Gray brought a travelling and stable companion with Lim’s Cruiser.
The New Zealand born but Singapore based trainer was similarly at ease as he grows more comfortable with how his horse has settled into his new environment.
“He’s beautiful today. He was still a little bit stressed yesterday but all good now. He’s settled down well. He’ll have a nice breeze tomorrow and that’ll do him,” he said.
Gray has aspirations to more often travel horses internationally, which mirrors the hope expressed, yesterday, by his Australian-based countryman Waller. The two hail from the same district of the North Island of New Zealand but have certainly spread their wings.
“I remember my father (Kevin) used to give Chris a hand when he was a young bloke, long before he made his name in Australia,” he said.
A strong Sunday performance from Lim’s Cruiser would obviously enhance Gray’s international yearnings and, as he has continually stressed, be very good for Singapore racing which could do with a fillip after the announcement of recent prize money cuts.
“Don’t get me wrong, Singapore’s still a great place to train. It’s been very good to me and my family, and I’m still positive about the future but right now some further positive action would be welcome and if Lim’s (Cruiser) could run well that would be good for Singapore and good for his owner Mr Lim who supports the industry across the board. And it could hopefully lead to more international runners for the stable,” Gray said.
Gray has had one previous international G1 runner, which was Emperor Max who was anything but disgraced when five and three-quarter lengths seventh, of 20, behind Muhaarar in the 2015 British Champions Sprint Stakes.
As to his second international G1 contender, the trainer is cautiously optimistic. “We’re obviously aware of the challenge here against the Hong Kong sprinters but Lim’s Cruiser is a very good horse with a good turn of foot and if it rains a bit on the day, then all the better. Experienced jockeys like Glen Boss and Danny Beasley, who’ve ridden him in Singapore, say he’d definitely be up to Group company in Australia so we’re hopeful,” he said.
Interestingly, Hong Kong based jockey Karis Teetan is also able to proffer an opinion on the six-year-old as he was flown to Singapore in November 2016 to partner Lim’s Cruiser in winning the SIN G2 Barker Trophy (1400m).
“I remember it well,” Teetan said, “it was my first time riding in Singapore. I got the chance as he had a light weight. He’s a really good horse and I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s competitive on Sunday.”
That victory was, in fact, the first black type success for any one of his sire Casino Prince’s offspring.
All of Lim’s Cruiser’s runs in Singapore have been left-handed (eight wins from 18 starts) but Gray is not concerned that he goes right-handed at Sha Tin. “He had two runs right-handed in New Zealand and Australia before we got him and I don’t think it’s a great issue in any case,” he said.
Lim’s Cruiser was purchased for A$100,000 at the dispersal of trainer Gillian Heinrich’s stable as part of the Magic Millions 2015 Gold Coast National Racehorse Sale. He’d then raced once, at Doomben, and had one further run at Avondale (New Zealand) before his export to Singapore.
Gray thinks the draw might be more significant than the direction of racing. “He does love the rail. If he draws well, we’d be going to the fence and if he draws wide we would go back,” Gray said.
Gray, 54, says he is as passionate as ever about his craft and hoping to expand locally as well as internationally. “I’m still enthusiastic. I’ve even gone a bit modern, putting together some racing syndicates, with the help of my racing manager Craig (Geehman),” he said.