Born-again sprinter Rattan heads into Tuesday’s Group Three National Day Cup (1,000m) as one of the most under-appreciated gallopers in Hong Kong.
Richard Gibson’s six-year-old was once stretched out for the gruelling 2,000m trip of a Hong Kong Derby, but has been reinvented in recent times as a speed machine.
Gibson believes his charge deserves recognition for his remarkable transformation, which saw him run no worse than fourth place last season as he picked off an unlikely victory in the Group Two Sprint Cup (1,200m) and almost stole the Group One Chairman’s Sprint Prize three weeks later.
“There is a lot of talk about other sprinters in town but the most consistent of them all is Rattan,” Gibson said.
“Bizarrely, a lot of talk going into the race is who is not running. It is a credit to the horse that he is always there, in great shape and ready to run on the big days. There are no ifs and buts with him.”
It was Gibson’s masterstroke – the addition of blinkers for the first time - which saw him walk away with the Sprint Cup last season, beating home the likes of Group One stars Mr Stunning and Beat The Clock as a despised outsider.
The move added to Rattan’s versatility, Gibson believes.
“It is a little bit cynical but with Derby horses you have to always try and stretch a horse to a mile and a quarter when he was probably a miler in his youth,” he said.
“It’s more flexibility in training, after that you decide what you are going to do with the horse. He is such a professional horse, you could take all the blinkers off and run him cold over a mile or put speed into his legs and turn him into a sprinter, it’s all personal choice.”
After taking a cautious approach to his preparation as a young horse, Gibson is beginning to reap the rewards with his 123-rated galloper.
“We campaigned him lightly as a young horse because we always thought if he was going to be a good horse, it would be as a senior, rather than a junior,” he said. “He is a great advertisement for the stable.”
He comes into the race off a strong barrier trial against the likes of Beauty Generation and Aethero, where he relished the trip down the Sha Tin straight.
Gibson will also saddle up Wishful Thinker in the race, who backs up from a disappointing performance in the Class One Chief Executive’s Cup (1,200m) on the opening day of the season.
The six-year-old enjoyed a breakout campaign last term which culminated in a run in the Group One Al Quoz Sprint (1,200m) in Dubai, but he will require cards to fall his way to win on Tuesday.
After producing some barnstorming finales last season, Gibson said his fast finisher will need a strong pace to tow him into the race.
“He is probably a better horse over 1,000m because he has a lot of power but the difference between the two horses is that the race has to go right for Wishful Thinker to show his best,” he said.
“He has a great turn of foot to finish, he is a real slip-stream runner – he has to get the right stream, the right tempo and then he finishes off.
“I think the first race of the season came up a bit quick, he ran fresh, but I have been happy with his trials.”
While Gibson was coy on the future plans for both of his stable stars, he said Rattan would be kept fresh in the lead-up to December’s international races.
“One thing is for certain and that is Rattan will not run three races before international day,” he said.
Other high-rated sprinters Little Giant, Gunnison and Full Of Beauty will also line up in the race.