Guy Shirtliff, son of leading South African owner Marsh Shirtliff, will be trackside at Kranji today when the son of Potala Palace makes his debut in Singapore. MICHAEL LEE of Racing and Sports filed the report below:
Given the long time away, his first-up Saturday assignment, an $85,000 Class 2 Polytrack race over 1200m will be too sharp and may well bring Katak’s undefeated run to a screeching halt, but Shirtliff Jr said that it was after all just a launchpad towards bigger and better things ahead.
“The main mission is the Gold Cup. The QEII Cup wouldn’t hurt as he’s a 1600m-2000m horse, but the Raffles Cup in three weeks’ time (September 18) will be his next target after this Saturday’s,” he said.
“Dad always wanted to win a Group 1 here after Jay Peg won the SIA Cup and River Jetez ran second in the (2011) SIA Cup.
“We had no luck with Marinaresco a couple of years ago, but he wasn’t 100% sound and he hurt his knee. He never got a chance to race in Singapore and we sent him back to South Africa to retire at the Hemel ‘N Aarde Stud, where he joined Pocket Power, who unfortunately died last month.
“But when Katak was insured, he got an A+. His wind, his joints are perfect, he has great proportion, has no issues, and on raw ability, Dad just thought Katak could well be the next horse to win a big race for him at Kranji.
“He’s won three Group 3 races over 1600m, 1800m and 2400m at home (all at Kenilworth, with the last Leg aptly named the Pocket Power Stakes), which was the Triple Crown of the Cape Town Winter Series.
“He’s beaten some of the best horses in South Africa, in the same calibre as the Durban July winner Kommetdieding, though he hasn’t raced against him, but it gives you an idea how he is clearly on par with the top horses.
“Unfortunately, it’s taken him longer to get here. We thought the quarantine would take nine months, but it’s taken 12 months, including four months in Mauritius, three months in France where he was pre-trained.
“Ricardo has done a fantastic job with him given he’s only been in work for six weeks after quarantine. He said he has been getting better and better with every gallop, every speed work he’s given him.
“He was blowing a lot after his barrier trial (close second to Sing A Song on August 26), but that was probably because he has not raced in a year.
“Over 1200m, which is not ideal, he may need the run against quality sprinters, but that should still bring him up towards the Raffles Cup.
“Ricardo said that ideally, the horse needed another month to get fitter and better, but he’s such a special horse, and he has not lost any of his ability.
“If he keeps improving, by the QEII Cup, he’ll be closer to his best form. He’s such an easy horse to train and ride, he’s got a high cruising speed and can slot in anywhere.
“He can run both ways, handy or from the back, but he’s not a frontrunner. He’s not a big horse at 470kgs, but he’s got a lot of natural ability.
“Though I share him with Dad and Bryn after Piet sold his 50% share, Dad told me he would run in my pink and blue striped colours in Singapore.”
Shirtliff added it was through a bit of luck that Katak became a rising superstar for the family as he could have easily been the one that got away.
“It’s an interesting story how Dad got him. He was actually passed in at the yearling sale,” he said.
“Piet, who is one of my Dad’s trainers, took him and offered Dad a half-share. When my Dad asked how much, he said 60,000 rands, which is only around S$5,000!
“The rest is history, and he could even become a stallion prospect one day. Last time, we would send them to Dubai and Hong Kong and if they’re good enough, they’d go back to the breeding barns in South Africa.
“We decided to take the Singapore route for the first time this year. Singapore is a good location, they can shuttle anywhere, like Australia or Hong Kong, it’s so easy to travel.