It's anyone's derby with no top stayers

From top: Blue Danube, Rockfast and Mr Spielberg are the only horses in the field of 16 in the Emirates Singapore Derby 2016 to have won over 2,000m.
Blue Danube (photo), Rockfast and Mr Spielberg are the only horses in the field of 16 in the Emirates Singapore Derby 2016 to have won over 2,000m.THE NEW PAPER FILE PHOTOS
From top: Blue Danube, Rockfast and Mr Spielberg are the only horses in the field of 16 in the Emirates Singapore Derby 2016 to have won over 2,000m.
Blue Danube, Rockfast (photo) and Mr Spielberg are the only horses in the field of 16 in the Emirates Singapore Derby 2016 to have won over 2,000m.THE NEW PAPER FILE PHOTOS
From top: Blue Danube, Rockfast and Mr Spielberg are the only horses in the field of 16 in the Emirates Singapore Derby 2016 to have won over 2,000m.
Blue Danube, Rockfast and Mr Spielberg (photo) are the only horses in the field of 16 in the Emirates Singapore Derby 2016 to have won over 2,000m.THE NEW PAPER FILE PHOTOS

Trainer Shaw, aiming for repeat win, sees slow, tactical race to gear up for closing sprint

The lack of any outstanding stayers has made Sunday's Emirates Singapore Derby one of the most open races in recent years.

Only three of the 16 entries for the $1.15 million Group 1 event have won over the 2,000m distance and none of those victories came at the highest level.

It is a far cry from previous editions, when the likes of long-distance specialist Better Life and Quechua were the focus of attention in the lead-up to the feature race.

South African Patrick Shaw was victorious with Quechua last year and will saddle four runners this weekend, in a bid to become the first trainer to win back-to-back derbies since Malcolm Thwaites bagged a hat-trick in 1997-1999.

Shaw said: "There are no stand-out stayers this year and it makes for a very unpredictable race. The pace will probably be slow with everyone saving their energy for the final sprint.

"It'll be very tactical which is what I like about these long races. It's a true test of your ability as a trainer."

HE'S GOT A GOOD CHANCE

He's drawn a neutral barrier, which is nice as it gives us more options to see where the speed is.

BAREND VORSTER, South African jockey, on Blue Danube starting from barrier 11.

HE'LL ADAPT

It doesn't matter where he (Rockfast) is drawn. He gets back anyway. All he needs is a bit of rain to get the sting out of the ground.

MARK WALKER, Kiwi trainer, who hopes for rain to soften the track for Rockfast.

Of his foursome, only Blue Danube has triumphed over the 10-furlong trip (he won a Benchmark 97 race in March) and will be Shaw's leading contender.

Jockey Barend Vorster will pilot the Argentinian-bred gelding from barrier 11 and was bullish about his chances.

He said: "He's drawn a neutral barrier, which is nice as it gives us more options to see where the speed is. His barrier trial was very good last week...

"Coming back to 2,000m will suit him and I hope everything goes well for him."

Preparations have been near perfect for the Mark Walker-trained Rockfast, who recorded wins in May and June and will be gunning for a third straight win over 2,000m starting from barrier 10.

Walker captured his first premiership title in Singapore last season but has yet to land a Group 1 trophy in Kranji.

The Kiwi handler had no doubt that Rockfast, ridden by two-time champion jockey Manoel Nunes, had the required stamina but was praying for overnight thunderstorms to soften the track.

Walker said: "It doesn't matter where he (Rockfast) is drawn. He gets back anyway. All he needs is a bit of rain to get the sting out of the ground."

His compatriot Laurie Laxon meanwhile, has found himself in unfamiliar territory of late in the middle rung of the premiership standings. The nine-time champion trainer finished fourth last term and is currently eighth in the table.

The veteran conditioner was nonplussed though and remained confident his two challengers Affleck (barrier 8) and Mr Spielberg (barrier 9), niggled in the past by back and heart problems respectively, were finally in top physical shape.

A solid workout on the turf on Wednesday left Laxon cautiously optimistic.

He said: "I couldn't be happier with their work. They worked over 11/4 mile (2,000m) and galloped over 1,200m, finishing locked together, and I was told they ran the last 600m in 34.2sec... They have come right at the right time."

EMIRATES SINGAPORE DERBY 2016

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2016, with the headline 'It's anyone's derby with no top stayers'. Print Edition | Subscribe