Homeopathy and a holistic approach are secrets to trainer's success
Homeopathy and a holistic approach are the secrets to the German's success - and Cup hope Feuerblitz is testament to his methods
Morning trackwork sessions for the Longines Hong Kong International Races are a melting pot of training techniques as diverse as the nationalities that descend upon Sha Tin at this time of year.
But it's fair to say none are considered to be as far outside the box as the holistic approach and "horse homeopathy" German handler Michael Figge employs with HK$22 million Hong Kong Cup hopeful Feuerblitz.
Along with the usual array of modern veterinarian treatments, Figge uses alternative therapies - including natural remedies usually used on humans - to keep his horses happy in mind, body and soul. "I want to see a horse that is all over happy and sound," Figge said yesterday. "I try to see the horse as a big and complex creature - one that is all together. I don't see him as different parts.
"Before a race it is important the horse is in a perfect physical and nervous condition - calm and strong. When travelling to other countries it is crucial the horse has a good immune system, and with the homeopathy you can help him.
"Of course, we also have a stable vet, but for small problems - or before problems happen - you can help them with this alternative approach. We use medicines that are natural products, things you can buy in a pharmacy, so there is no doping."
Figge had two distinct, but very different, influences growing up in the form of his now divorced parents, Wolfgang and Marika.
Wolfgang Figge is a hardened horseman from the old school, whose uncompromising but common-sense approach was forged under the tutelage of another great German trainer, Sven von Mitzlaff. But it was Marika who opened her son's eyes to the power of natural remedies.
She owns an alternative therapy treatment centre in Doggendorf, and Michael trained there for three years to become a qualified therapist for humans. It wasn't long before he began experimenting on his horses and getting results.
"In the beginning I gave horses five times the dosage I would give a human," Figge said. "But I went down to just double because they are very sensitive, like children.
"What I do now with my training is a combination of tradition and innovation. I mix the methods up from what I have seen. I was also lucky enough to be a work rider in different parts of the world and see different training styles.
"It's very important for a trainer to get his style - mine, with naturopathy and what I have learned, it's a good mixture."
If Feuerblitz's appearance is any indication, the remedies are working a treat. The colt is no oil painting as you would expect for a horse that cost €3,000 (HK$30,400) as a yearling Figge has described him as "ugly". But he has a bright and intelligent eye, a relaxed demeanour and a presence that can make you look twice.
Figge is not only innovative with training techniques, but with race programming for his horses. The 39-year-old says he was called "crazy" when he chose the Derby Italiano as a lead-up to the German Derby, but the gamble paid off when Feuerblitz snatched the Group Two in Rome.
After a failure in the German Derby and another unplaced effort, Feuerblitz has finished runner-up three times at Group One level - all against older horses. The last effort in the Premio Roma, the eighth run of his three-year-old season, was a test of his suitability to the Cup distance of 2,000m.
"He performed very well there, but this is more difficult," Figge said. "We hope he runs a big race and prove he can perform against world class. It's a nice last race to the season.
"He has been in top condition since April. He has only raced badly twice and he has hit back in his last three runs against the older horses - they were big performances," Figge said.
"We don't want the ground too soft, or not too firm - somewhere in the middle."