Fantastic Eight (in orange) storms to Class 3 success on debut at Happy Valley last month.
©Hong Kong Jockey Club
By David Morgan
Fantastic Eight (113lb) aims to make his mark in Class 2 on Wednesday (20 December) night but the impressive last-start winner will likely face competition for his favoured front-running role in what promises to be an exciting finale at Happy Valley.
Jockey Umberto Rispoli expects hot competition right from the break in the Mercury Handicap (1200m).
“There are a few fast horses in the race so that could be a little bit against him,” the Italian said. “Fabulous One (132lb) is a fast horse, Wah May Friend (133lb) from the outside will probably try to go forward with the apprentice on, and there is Almababy (115lb), too, who likes to go forward. But Fantastic Eight is a horse that thrives on speed.”
Ricky Yiu’s charge has never finished out of the first two in eight Hong Kong starts and heads into the midweek feature with a perfect course and distance record. The bay gelding posted a storming three-length Class 3 win on his Valley debut last month.
“We’ll see now if he’s good enough to compare with the good horses in Class 2,” said Rispoli. “The low weight is a big help so hopefully he can use that good speed he has from the gate.”
Fantastic Eight will break from gate three, and the rider believes that is a big bonus for the Duporth four-year-old who has an unconventional racing action.
“I just need to be careful that he’s balanced, with his strange action, to make sure he’s really good on his legs, and when he’s well-balanced give him the chance to sprint home like he did last time. It’s the C 3 course, so the low draw will help a lot,” he said.
Fabulous One is another that has made his name as a trailblazing galloper, notching five wins two seasons ago, all from the front. After rising to a peak rating of 108 and competing at the Dubai Carnival last term, Chris So’s charge finds himself back down in a Class 2 contest at the course and distance for the first time since the latest of his wins back in June, 2016.
“It’s his second start back in Class 2 now, his rating (103) has dropped a bit and I think Happy Valley suits him better because the straight is shorter than at Sha Tin,” So said.
Fabulous One finished fifth under apprentice Matthew Poon in an all-weather Class 2 at the distance on 3 December.
“He pulled up well after his last run. He’s not an easy horse to ride. The kid did a good job last time but he’s not easy, so that’s why we put Nash (Rawiller) on this time,” So said.
“He has a good draw (two) and he has really good gate speed but there’s a lot of early speed in the race and that could be a problem. If we can control the speed I think he has a good chance. It’s always better if he leads.”
The 12-runner class standout also features on-pace runners Sea Jade (124lb) and House Of Fun (132lb), as well as last start winner Born In China (131lb) and the consistent pair Mr Genuine (121lb) and Archippus (131lb). Verbinsky (118lb), Blocker Dee (117lb) and Super Lifeline (115lb) complete the line-up.
Staying power will be at a premium in the Class 3 Mars Handicap over the Valley’s maximum 2200m and that is what trainer Paul O’Sullivan is looking for with the stout New Zealand import Rule Thee.
“I think he’s pretty much an out-and-out stayer,” O’Sullivan said. “He didn’t get the best of runs in his last start. He just went down narrowly, carrying a big weight.”
The Tavistock five-year-old was a nose away from nicking his first Hong Kong win at his ninth local start last time out. That was a Class 4 event at the course and distance.
“He’s got bit of an awkward draw in 10 but if they run it along at a good speed he’ll certainly run the trip out,” O’Sullivan said.
“He might go back from that draw. They can be funny races the way they run those 2200-metre races; they can run the first 600 as quickly as they possibly can and then steady up, so I think we’ll be out of the early rush and just see how he finishes off.”
Rule Thee’s 11 rivals include two-time course and distance winner Andoyas (131lb), as well as 2016 G2 Italian Derby (2200m) hero Super Chic (131lb). The latter has dropped to a career-low mark of 77 but steps up to a distance beyond 1800m for the first time since last December. The Tony Cruz-trained grey was a solid fourth in an all-weather Class 3 over 1650m earlier this month.
Wednesday’s pre-Christmas action starts at 11.15am with the Class 5 Uranus Handicap (1000m). The finale, race eight, is due off at 2.50pm.