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Ong stays on Warpath with old champ

Trelawney Stud graduate War Affair lines up in Singapore on Saturday night. Photo: STC
Trelawney Stud graduate War Affair lines up in Singapore on Saturday night. Photo: STC

Tough warhorse War Affair’s (NZ) (O’Reilly) glory days on the battlefield seem long lost in the mists of time, but trainer Jason Ong is not giving up on his old warrior rising again to deal one last blow.

The Singaporean handler doesn’t know if it will happen at that 38th start – in Saturday’s S$100,000 Kranji Stakes A race over 1800m.

He does know that the rising 10-year-old doesn’t have the same engine or legs that carried him to 16 wins in a glittering racing career that began in 2013, including 10 at Singapore Group level, and a Singapore Horse of the Year title in 2014 six years ago.

But one word that does not crop up at all when Ong talks about the family’s champion is “retirement”.

The horse may have had breathing issues that could have spelled the end, but he is over that now – via a rehab stay in New Zealand at Trelawney Stud – and is as sound as he could be, even if he has been finishing more at the back of the field except for one flicker of hope when a close fourth in the Jumbo Jet Trophy (1400m) in July, and was even being hailed the winner in the home straight.

“With his high rating (103 down from an all-time high of 118 in October 2016), there are limited races for him. His best distance is the mile, but we are running him over 1800m as there are no other races for him,” said the young trainer.

“It’s a Kranji Stakes A, but he’s not giving a lot of weight. He’s an older horse now, and we have to look after him.

“A lot will depend on the tempo of the race. We would prefer a quick tempo as we don’t want him to get choked up in the running.

“It’s a tough field, but he’s well and John Powell will ride him. JP has been working with him and trialling him since he came back from New Zealand, but he couldn’t ride him most of the time as he was committed to other rides, mainly for Shane (Baertschiger).”

The heavyweight Australian jockey did team up with War Affair in a race once, at his first race post-New Zealand stay, running out of the placings in the Rocket Man Sprint (1200m) in May.

“JP’s free this time, and galloped him over the week,” said Ong. “Besides, the stable has had luck with JP on Saturday with War Pride, and we thought we’d keep it going with War Affair this Saturday.

“The task looks tough on paper, but the horse is well and he deserves to have a shot.”

War Affair carries 58kgs, the second heaviest impost after the 59.5kgs shouldered by last-start Chairman’s Trophy winner Countofmontecristo, the likely favourite.

Interestingly, Saturday’s race will be like a rematch of the Chairman’s Trophy given five of the other seven runners in the small nine-horse field also ran in the feature race over 1600m, among others, Cliff Brown’s Gold Strike (Iffraaj), the Lee Freedman’s Sun Marshal (Sepoy) and Mr Clint (NZ) (Power), Ricardo Le Grange’s King Louis (Medaglia d’Oro), the latter two both disappointing, but they were also making their racing comeback. 

Bred by Trelawney Stud, War Affair was purchased by David Ellis for $70,000 from the farm's 2012 New Zealand Bloodstock draft and has earned more than $3 million in prizemoney -Singapore Turf Club