War Affair set for Poly debut

War Affair is expected to perform well in tomorrow's $400,000 Merlion Trophy, although it will be his first attempt on the Polytrack.
War Affair is expected to perform well in tomorrow's $400,000 Merlion Trophy, although it will be his first attempt on the Polytrack. TNP FILE PHOTO

2014 Horse of the Year should handle the surface in tomorrow's Merlion Trophy

Surprisingly, Kranji's old warrior and 2014 Singapore Horse of the Year War Affair has yet to race on the Polytrack, having had all his 30-plus races on turf.

The nine-year-old New Zealand-bred's major quest in tomorrow's $400,000 Group 2 Merlion Trophy over 1,200m will be his first attempt on the alternate surface.

But his trainer, Bruce Marsh, believes his charge can handle it. War Affair showed that in a trial with blinkers recently, running on nicely to finish sixth to fellow Merlion Trophy contender Bold Thruster.

Jockey Alysha Collett, who will also be aboard tomorrow, gave a positive report after the trial.

In fact, from past records, War Affair had won five trials on the Polytrack, so Marsh is hoping his horse will run good in Singapore's richest of three Polytrack feature races.

The other two Poly features are the traditional season bookenders - the $200,000 Group 3 New Year Cup over 1,200m and the $175,000 Group 3 Colonial Chief Stakes over 1,800m on the last meeting of the Singapore racing season.

Besides showing up well in his trial last week, War Affair gave Marsh and the Ongs of Warplan Racing Stable plenty of hope by showing glimpses of his old form last start in the $175,000 Group 3 Jumbo Jet Trophy over 1,400m on July 28.

He zoomed up menacingly in the final 200m. For a fleeting moment, it looked like victory was his but his run ended there. He eventually had to settle for fourth behind Star Emperor. But he was gallant in defeat, beaten by only half a length.

"There was nothing else for War Affair. We thought why not run him in the Merlion," said Marsh.

"Yes, it's his first run on Poly. We trialled him with blinkers on and he handled it very well.

"It was the first time he had ever been fitted with a set of blinkers other than at his first blinkers test a long time ago.

"Alysha was very happy with that trial. He's a genuine horse and trialled as good as anything.

"He ran enormous at his last start. We got excited for a while, but it's just in the last few metres that he could not quite go on with the job."

Marsh said the run in the Merlion Trophy will serve as a good guide to War Affair's future endeavours.

Nothing concrete has been locked away, even if the Singapore Triple Crown is just around the corner with the Group 1 Raffles Cup over 1,600m kicking it off on Sept 22.

The Singapore Triple Crown is a series War Affair has contested three times, producing the best result in 2014, when then prepared by trainer Alwin Tan.

The handsome brown gelding landed the first two legs-the Group 1 Panasonic Kranji Mile and the Group 1 Raffles Cup - but finished fifth to Quechua in the Group 1 Longines Singapore Gold Cup.

"We have to take it race by race with him. There is nothing set for him. Each race will tell us where he is at," said Marsh, whose son, Stephen, raced War Affair twice during the New Zealand stay last year - both in Group races, albeit without success.

"It's a bit of a test for him on Sunday, being his first time on Poly and the blinkers. But he's well and he's maintained his condition.

"We don't see him up on the speed for sure, but the good thing is it's a weight-for-age race this time and he'll be at level weights (57.5kg) with the other horses.

"As long as he hits the line nicely, we'll be happy."

War Affair has won almost all before him in his earlier career.

But, while those legs are obviously not as power-packed as those that propelled him to 16 wins over five glorious seasons, including five at Group 1 level, he still has a lofty rating of 116. Only Lion City Cup winner Aramco is rated higher than him, at 118.

Shortly after his last win, in which he dead-heated with Storm Troops in the Group 3 Saas Fee Stakes over 1,400m on May 14, 2017, the $3 million stakes earner was beset by wind issues that might have spelled the end for your average Joe of the racing world.

But the son of O'Reilly is a fighter and was brought back for one last shot at glory.

In four runs since his return from a beneficial New Zealand rehab to fix his respiratory problems, War Affair has not won, but didn't give the impression he didn't enjoy his racing any more either.

If anything, the old champ has sent pulses racing again at his last start in the Jumbo Jet Trophy.

While Marsh is not letting himself get too carried away, a win tomorrow on his first Polytrack bid will be most satisfying for the veteran Kiwi trainer.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2019, with the headline 'War Affair set for Poly debut'. Print Edition | Subscribe