EARLY BIRD became the first locally-bred horse to win the Stewards Cup in almost two decades when horse racing resumed after a one-week break yesterday at Santa Rosa Park, Arima.
The 5/2 joint second fancy picked up the running from Rio Ponti at the far turn and just held off an extremely fast-finishing 9/5 favourite, Nuclear Power, by a neck as the race fondly known as the Sprint Championship of the South Caribbean climaxed in pulsating fashion.
It was the sixth victory from 11 starts this year for Early Bird, who became the first West Indian-bred horse to win the Grade I contest since the Martinique-bred Kato in 2006 and the first bred right here in Trinidad since Concert Hall, 19 years ago.
Coming in 3 ¾ lengths behind last year’s Gold Cup winner Nuclear Power in third was Thisonesforron, who became the first horse to place in the top three in this prestigious 1,200-metre contest five years in a row.
The two-time Horse of the Year had also been third in 2015 and last year and was triumphant right after being the runner-up in ’16. It was the seventh start of the season for Thisonesforron and the sixth straight time that he had crossed the finish line third.
And with Pauseforacoors coming in next, it meant that Nuclear Power was the only horse in the top four not from the stable of John O’Brien.
The multiple champion trainer also sent out joint 5/2 second fancy General JN but, after a tardy start and a rough trip, the President’s Cup and Diamond Stakes winner could only finish ninth of the 11 runners.
After winning last year’s edition 364 days before, Whisper Light turned from hero to villain as he ended up at the rear of the field – almost 25 lengths behind Early Bird.
Finishing just ahead was 2013 Trinidad Derby winner Bigman In Town, in his first start in 15 months.
This is the only race for the top class that this three-time Horse of the Year has not won, but he had come very close two years ago when he just failed to catch “Ron” in his other attempt.
Early Bird stopped the clock in 1:10.84, just a second outside the track record, with Brian Boodramsingh in the saddle.
The Hugh Leong Poi-bred and owned gelding had won nine of his 15 career outings on the main track and earned almost $87,000 yesterday for his bank account total to go pass $350,000.
Early Bird, last year’s Champion Juvenile Male with three wins in four starts, became the eighth Stewards Cup winner for O’Brien
The most successful trainer since the sport was centralised here in 2004 first did the trick with Cash Wager in ’02 and ’04, and he has also been successful with Bruceontheloose (’10 and ‘12), Crime Of Passion (’13 and ’14) and Thisonesforron two years ago.
However, stable jockey Boodramsingh, who is well on his way to being crowned champion for the sixth time, had never ridden a winner of this event before.
Racing continues at Santa Rosa Park on Saturday with the 37th round of the Arima Race Club’s 2019 Season.