Having bypassed the G3 Lion Rock Trophy Handicap (1600m) at the beginning of this month with Flaming Rabbit, trainer Douglas Whyte has instead opted to prime the Time Test colt for Sunday’s (18 June) Class 2 Lek Yuen Handicap (1400m) at Sha Tin.
“I took him out of the Lion Rock Trophy – he was just too far out of the handicap and this is the next available race.
“He’s held his form, I just gave him a barrier trial at Happy Valley to blow the cobwebs out and keep him ticking over – he feels in good order,” Whyte said.
Engaged in a softer target this weekend – which is also without the Lion Rock Trophy-winning Beauty Eternal and four others rating over 100 – as he chases a first Hong Kong win, Flaming Rabbit placed in the grade last start behind Tuchel – one of this season’s leading four-year-olds and runner-up in the 2023 BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m).
“He has surprised me in a sense that he got to Hong Kong way too late. He was delayed with flights and there were a lot of hiccups. We tried to prepare him for the Derby, which was never going to eventuate because it was just too rushed.
“He’s now really settled in well and he has a great temperament. He’s doing everything correctly at the moment,” Whyte said.
Flaming Rabbit will net an eye-watering HK$3.504 million if successful this Sunday for connections. First place receives HK$1.504 million, while he also remains eligible to bank a HK$2 million PP Bonus for prevailing in Class 2 for the first time with a rating above 80.
A two-time Group 3 winner prior to import, Flaming Rabbit began racing in Germany with trainer Peter Schiergen and also competed in Great Britain and France. As well, he finished sixth in the 2022 G1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp (1600m).
The 84-rater has raced three times in Hong Kong for two placings. He led throughout to cross the line a hard-held first under jockey Lyle Hewitson in 1m 11.91s over 1200m in a barrier trial at Happy Valley on 3 June.
“I think the way he comes out of the gates and the way he has that unbelievable turn of foot stepping away, he gives himself every opportunity in Hong Kong,” Whyte said.
Flaming Rabbit’s wins in Germany came on debut at Mulheim and also in the 2021 G3 Zukunfts-Rennen (1400m) at Baden-Baden as a two-year-old. His sole triumph in Great Britain was returned in the 2022 G3 Thoroughbred Stakes (1600m) at Goodwood.
Flaming Rabbit (123lb) breaks from gate six against nine rivals on Sunday, including The Golden Scenery (133lb), Beauty Live (130lb), Erimo (127lb), Galaxy Witness (125lb), Flagship Warrior (122lb) and Amazing Victory (120lb).
“The way that he’s (Flaming Rabbit) digested everything and the way that he’s taking every step positively that I have asked him to do, suggests to me that I have a nice horse on my hands for next season,” Whyte said.
The red-hot Hewitson has 45 wins this campaign – including five since the start of June – and is looking reach a half-century for the first time in Hong Kong across the season’s remaining nine fixtures, with nine rides this weekend – led by Flaming Rabbit’s inclusion.
“I think the mile is ideal for him, so stepping back to 1400 metres poses a little bit more of a question mark. But with that said, his first run was very good when he was trapped wide without cover and he stayed on well.
“He’s matured as a horse, he ran a blinder last time taking a bit of a risk and I think the stamina in his legs suggests that he’s the type of horse who can step back to 1400 metres and be quite threatening,” Hewitson said.
Sunday’s (18 June) 11-race fixture at Sha Tin kicks off at 4pm (AEST 18:00) with the Wo Che Plate (1000m) for Griffins.
– News from Hong Kong Jockey Club