SINGAPORE - Trainer Stephen Gray returned from a holiday in time to witness an impressive maiden victory by STRUBELI in the $65,000 Initiation Stakes over the 1,200 at Kranji on Sunday.
Ridden by Joao Moreira, Strubeli scored a 6½-length victory over GOLD DANCER, the mount of Barend Vorster, with Q NINE STAR (Manoel Nunes) a neck away third.
Moreira had to use Strubeli up in the early stages to get across from his widest draw after a smart beginning. Once he got the four-year-old to the head of affairs, Moreira dropped anchor where he was joined by Jose Verenzuela's mount, BANKER'S CALL, and Q Nine Star.
Verenzuela eventually took a sit aboard Bankers Call and Nunes was up on the outside of the favourite as the field turned for home.
Once fully balanced for the run home, Moreira pulled the trigger and asked Strubeli for his effort. Strubeli replied and quickly opened up a winning break on his rivals.
Singapore's champion jockey just flicked the whip at Strubeli to keep his mind on the job over the final 200m as he continued to widen his margin.
Gray had given the New Zealand-bred gelding plenty of time to mature, after being purchased as yearling and left to develop in New Zealand.
Strubeli is owned by Stephan Herzog, who raced Goldschatz with Gray and is the first galloper he has raced since that gelding's retirement.
"After Goldschatz was retired, Stephan brought a couple of yearlings and this is the first one to make it to the races," said Gray. "Stephan's only had the two horses to race in Singapore and both have been winners.
"This horse had trialled up in New Zealand and had shown promise but we kept him in New Zealand on the spring grass and let him develop.
"Stephan is good like that. He's very patient and wants to do what's best for the horse. He eventually came up here at Christmas time but had a few issues which delayed him making his debut.
"He had a virus that he just couldn't shake for a while and then he ripped off a shoe and stood on a nail and got an infected foot.
"It just took a bit of time to get him right and he was probably a bit underdone when he had his first run. And he did have to give the winner which is a pretty handy horse quite a bit of weight.
"I've got a pretty good opinion of this horse but we won't be rushing him as I think he will go on and win a few races for us."
Gray added that it was disappointing that Brazilian jockey Ivaldo Santana, who had ridden Strubeli on debut back on July 26, could not be a part of the success as he is nursing broken ribs.
"Santana had done all the work with this horse, so it was disappointing that he couldn't be part of this success," said Gray. "However, it was great to see him here and he was part of the celebration following the race."
Moreira predicted a bright future for Strubeli after having to work at both ends of the race.
"Once he found his way to the front he came back underneath me and relaxed very well," said Moreira.
"Even though the horse on my outside had a lightweight and was pressuring me, I always knew that I had that one beaten.
"Strubeli really enjoyed himself in front and I could feel I had a lot of horse underneath me. Once into the straight he gave me a great kick. The only other time I had sat on him was in a gallop during the week and I could feel then that he was a nice horse."
A four-year-old by Elusive City from Impulse, Strubeli was a NZ$90,000 yearling purchase and has returned Herzog around $47,000 in prizemoney from his two races starts to date.
A big hit with the punters, Strubeli was sent off as the $7 favourite. Gold Dancer, who took second, paid $9 as did Q Nine Star.
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