To run or not to run: that is Ho's Derby question for Flame Hero
Peter Ho Leung has until tomorrow morning to decide if Flame Hero will be a late entry for the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2,000m) after the four-year-old put himself into the picture with a determined victory on Saturday.
Douglas Whyte took advantage of the inside draw on the last-start winner to enjoy the box-seat, right behind Beauty Flame (Olivier Doleuze), who was afforded cheap fractions in the middle stages.
At the top of the straight, Beauty Flame kicked and looked like he was going to hold on, but Whyte was able to guide his mount home in the last few strides to record a head victory.
Ho said he had a lot to discuss with the owners, but pointed out his rating - 85 before Saturday's win - should now be elevated above 90, which would almost guarantee him a start in the race.
"A lot will depend on what the handicapper does, but he's a star now and I think he'll get a ticket to the Derby," Ho said. "Every owner wants a Derby starter, so we've achieved the goal if we want to push on. It's not cheap - it's a HK$160,000 late entry fee, but the prizemoney he won today will cover it."
If Ho does decide to run Flame Hero in the Derby, he will be out to emulate Collection (2008) and Akeed Mofeed (2013), who both won the same 1,800m event before winning the four-year-old classic.
A Derby start seemed out of the question earlier in the season because Flame Hero was overracing and refusing to settle.
"In his first start, he ran second over 1,000m and that screwed with his head. He had to learn to settle," Ho said.
However, Whyte says the son of Savabeel's racing manners are far better now.
"He's very kind in a race, you can put him anywhere," Whyte said. "He's flexible and versatile. If anything, you could ride him further back as has a nice turn of foot, but he's fine settling close to the speed from a good gate."
That said, the South African acknowledged he had everything to suit and is not sure if the Derby may come too soon.
"He is a nice horse. Really, he had all the favours - he had the gun run and he was getting 10 pounds off the second horse," Whyte said.
"He has come up a long way in the ratings very quickly, which is a negative, but he is still progressive and a big positive, if they decide to go to the Derby, is that he will get the trip."
It wasn't all positive news for Whyte, though, after he was suspended for two days for careless riding earlier in the day aboard Great Pegasus - discounted from the usual three days because he had gone more than 150 rides without a suspension.
Whyte will miss the March 23 and March 26 racedays, which will allow him to head to Dubai earlier than planned to partner Akeed Mofeed in a crucial workout on the Wednesday before his assignment at the Dubai World Cup meeting.