For three years before Singapore's international racing program was put on hold, Hong Kong-based horses dominated the competition. They picked up right where they left off as Singapore returned to the world spotlight May 26, with Southern Legend romping home by three lengths in the Kranji Mile (G1)—followed by fellow traveler Horse of Fortune.
Nova Strike finished third, snagging the bonus offered by the Singapore Turf Club for first local horse past the winning post.
Southern Legend, a 5-year-old Australian-bred gelding by Not a Single Doubt, never appeared to give jockey Zac Purton a moment's doubt in the race contested over yielding turf at Kranji Racecourse.
Quickly away, Purton took station on the rail and on the lead, saving ground through the turn. He shrugged off a challenge from Maximus with 300 meters to run, let Southern Legend have his way, and surged to a comfortable lead, winning in a final time of 1:33.79.
Southern Legend, the highest-rated horse in the field, came to Singapore following a third-place finish in the April 29 Champions Mile (G1) at Sha Tin.
"I didn't really have a plan," Purton said. "I wanted to be positive and just work it out. I didn't think there'd be much speed in the race, so I wanted to lead if I could."
Winning trainer Caspar Fownes said the victory puts Southern Legend "up there with the big boys now. History tells you that these horses come out and improve that little bit more the next season."
Horse of Fortune, a 7-year-old South African-bred, has been running on the fringes of the top level in Hong Kong for trainer Tony Millard. He finished sixth, beaten only four lengths, in the Longines Hong Kong Mile (G1) in December 2017.
"Great run," Millard said of the Kranji effort. "He's not a young horse anymore, and he just ran a big race today."
Singapore's two international group 1 races, the Singapore Airlines International Cup and the KrisFlyer International Sprint, were mothballed after 2015. Fownes has won the KrisFlyer three times—with Green Birdie in 2010 and with Lucky Nine in 2013 and 2014.
The Club last year announced its intent to return to international participation in 2019. As a steppingstone, the Kranji Mile was made an invitational race for 2018, and purses were boosted for that race and for the supporting Lion City Cup, a 1,200-meter sprint.
In the Lion City Cup on Saturday, last year's local sprint champion, Lim's Cruiser, found running room between the leaders with 200 meters to go and quickly shot through to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
Trainer Stephen Gray had given the son of Casino Prince his chances at longer distances during the season, but Lim's Cruiser had not been able to produce the same turn of foot he demonstrated sprinting.
"He's a very good horse, and we've worked for this race all along," Gray said. "I always knew he'd bounce back, and what better race than this to do that."