For some moments in the final drive to the winning post, First Chief looked defeated in his grand hat-trick bid at Kranji on Sunday.
Our Pinnacle had lunged up menacingly and appeared to poke ahead in the $50,000 Class 4 Div 2 race over the Polytrack 1,200m.
But, under a vigorous ride by jockey John Sundradas, the Jason Lim-trained and Trips D Stable-owned seven-year-old rallied to snatch victory by the narrowest of margins – a nose.
The third horse, Basilisk, was well beaten – four lengths adrift.
First Chief clocked 1min 11.49sec for his first Class 3 success. He also led all the way in his last two starts in Class 4.
First Chief is certainly a late bloomer at Kranji. The Australian-bred gelding started winning only in his last three starts. He had three seconds and two thirds in his 19 previous outings.
An A$350,000 (S$343,000) purchase, the son of Fastnet Rock and Serenada raced as Cao Cao in Melbourne (two wins) and Hong Kong (unsuccessful in eight starts).
He had been a letdown to his connections since arriving in Singapore in Class 4 in 2020.
He was first placed under trainer Jerome Tan, who raced the horse three times for a debut fourth and a second-up second.
Trainer Young Keah Yong then took over the horse, who had three unplaced starts.
First Chief was transferred again early last year – to Lim, who also seemed to hit a brickwall.
Other than a few placings, the horse was still struggling to regain the form that saw him at Caulfield and Moonee Valley, two metropolitan tracks in Australia. He was then prepared by Mick Price.
But a fortuitous change to front-running tactics at his 14th run for Lim – on Singapore Gold Cup Day on Nov 14 – finally triggered a turnaround.
Ridden by Oscar Chavez in a Class 5 race over the Polytrack 1,200m, First Chief rolled forward, never to be caught.
Chavez reported that his mount landed in front by default – no-one else was keen to play the rabbit’s role.
The gelding scored again in the same fashion in his next start in an identical event, before Sunday’s victory in Class 4 – again over the Poly 1,200m.
He won by 13/4 lengths the first time and by a length the second. But he really had to sweat it out on Sunday.
The Stephen Gray-trained Our Pinnacle received strong support in the last couple of minutes to eventually start as the co-second favourite with First Chief.
Well ridden by last year’s No. 2 jockey Danny Beasley, who had won on Lim’s Zoom and Al Green earlier, Our Pinnacle loomed up to challenge strongly in mid-straight. He appeared to have popped ahead.
His mount had the momentum, but John never gave up. He gave his all and First Chief dug deep to get back in front to win by a nose.
The $19 favourite Prodigal failed to produce the burst that earned him his second-up victory. He finished fourth, 11/2 lengths behind Basilisk.
Lim could not quite ascertain what brought about First Chief’s turnaround.
But he was pleased his charge was not giving any signs of relapsing to his “erratic” ways.
“He was quite erratic in the way he raced. But, sometime in November, we rolled him along and Oscar said that seemed to work for him,” said the Singaporean handler.
“Today, we just told John to let him jump and bowl along.
“I thought he was beat at the 50m. But he showed he has got a good fighting spirit when he went again.
“When he came from Hong Kong, he had a very strong mindset, he was quite temperamental.
“But, with confidence on his side now, I think he channels it in a positive way through his will to win.”
First Chief has earned about $100,000 for his owners.