Champ Walker off to a great start

Altair, with champion jockey Vlad Duric astride, sprinting home for his third win from just four starts at the New Year's Day meeting at Kranji. More wins are in store for the Mark Walker-trained horse.
Altair, with champion jockey Vlad Duric astride, sprinting home for his third win from just four starts at the New Year's Day meeting at Kranji. More wins are in store for the Mark Walker-trained horse.ST PHOTO: SALWA SUANDI

Kiwi trainer's New Year's Day treble includes the progressive Afalonhro and Altair

Kranji-based New Zealander Mark Walker won his third Singapore champion trainer's title last year without going full steam, revealing that he saved some bullets for the new season.

He meant what he said, as he fired home a hat-trick to head the pack on just the opening day of the 2020 Singapore racing season on New Year's Day.

Two of his winners - odds-on favourites Afalonhro and Altair - are progressive horses heading for better things.

His other winner, Class 5 galloper Try Mak Mak, gave apprentice jockey Hakim Kamaruddin his first winner on his first day of riding on his second mount.

Walker felt Afalonhro was a bit unlucky to get a check at the start and found it hard to make up ground on the narrow E Course when second first-up on Nov 22.

The Australian bred, who arrived with two seconds and five thirds, won hands down on Wednesday.

"You know, he's a big, scopey type of horse, so I think he can go through the grades quite nicely," said Walker, a five-time champion in his native New Zealand.

"When we bought him, he was a four-year-old colt. We gelded him in Sydney and then brought him up here. Some horses, when you geld them, they can grow a leg, so I am hoping he is one of them."

Jockey Vlad Duric reckoned Afalonhro's maiden win over the Polytrack 1,200m was impressive, considering he humped 59kg, while most of his rivals carried only 50kg.

In fact, the three-time Singapore champion rider already stood up on his irons to relax 50m before the winning post and yet his mount won by 51/2 lengths.

"It was just about keeping him out of trouble," said Duric. " He won impressive enough and I think he'll go through to win at least Class 4. He's got a bit of improvement as well."

Duric and Walker also heaped praise on Class 3 winner Altair, who has now won three of his four starts at Kranji and is aimed at the Singapore Four-Year-Old Series.

Costing A$510,000 (S$480,000) as a yearling, Altair did not live up to the high expectations in Australia when trained by Chris Waller and was sold to the Walker camp.

"We bought him with the Four-Year-Old Series in mind, because he won over 1,550m at Canterbury in Sydney, so I'm still hoping he'll measure up to that sort of company," said Walker.

Duric said it was "a super effort" from Altair, who travelled beautifully throughout and gave him "a gorgeous ride".

"A super effort. I felt like I was a winner a long way from home. He's a really progressive type of horse. You know, more wins in store."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2020, with the headline 'Champ Walker off to a great start'. Print Edition | Subscribe