The remarkable story of Lightning Stakes winner Redkirk Warrior seemingly takes a new twist at every turn
Much of the tale has been well documented of the now dual Group One sprint winner in Australia who came here, via Hong Kong, after winning on debut at 2000 metres at Yarmouth in Britain.
And that he now might return to the country of his birth for Royal Ascot in June. The seven-year-old gelding was foaled at Lenore Peacock’s Manor House Stud in Middleham, North Yorkshire which sits between Mark Johnston’s Kingsley Park Stables and Karl Burke’s Spigot Lodge.
It’s also well reported that Redkirk Warrior supplied his sire Notnowcato with his first Group One win when successful in the 2017 Newmarket Handicap – about sixteen months after his final run in Hong Kong and almost three years after his debut win.
Less known is that Redkirk Warrior was bound for retirement when he came to Australia. “He was effectively retired given that his feet were so bad. It was a case of giving him one last try and, at that time, I can’t say I was particularly excited about it,” Hayes conceded.
He’s excited now about the horse who has earned approximately $1,500,000 on Australian tracks and finally yielded a return on his undisclosed purchase price out of Britain, which may well have been several hundred thousand pounds given other documented sales to Hong Kong.
Hayes had not, while in Hong Kong, had any racing relationship with principal owner Edmund Lee, but Lee shared in the ownership of Hayes’s 2016 Australian Cup winner Spillway.
“His feet were basically going left instead of right and he was constantly sore. Our farrier did a fantastic job, reshaping his feet and changing his angles. He said it would initially make him even more sore but would come good. We gave him a month’s box rest and then some steady work on the treadmill, before we galloped him.
“He had a year and a half of hoof problems in Hong Kong where he was trained by Chris So, who used to work for me. Chris still managed to get him to run very well but he’s blossomed here because of the work of our farrier and also the country environment, and his feet are fine now,” Hayes said.
As to why the horse, who won twice at 2000 metres in Britain and was hailed as a Derby horse in Hong Kong, is now sprinting is simply answered.
“He just went faster than most of my other horses when we worked him. His lactates say he’s a middle-distance horse but he’s faster than that,” Hayes said.
Consequently the Lindsay Park team was happy to back him when he first appeared in Australia in a 1200 metres race at Moonee Valley in October 2016. He was beaten less than a half length into second place after being four and five deep without cover the entire race. “We plunged him but he was slaughtered…” Hayes said.
The gelding then ventured to Sandown for the Sandown Stakes and was again well-backed before winning from Stratum Star, who then won at his next three starts, including the Kingston Town Classic.
If the feet trouble wasn’t bad enough, Redkirk Warrior then had a throat operation to relieve an entrapped epiglottis after the Sandown win. He returned to the track four months later to become the first horse in 100 years to win the Newmarket Handicap first up.
“He really should be unbeaten first up here given the Valley run and that he’s since won the Newmarket, the Bobbie Lewis and the Lightning fresh,” Hayes said.
Redkirk Warrior’s immediate target is to defend his Newmarket crown, secured with 52.5 kilograms last year, on 10 March. “Obviously he’s going to get his share of weight but it’s the logical target given his straight form and he was so good last Saturday. Missing the start might have been a blessing in disguise but he exploded,” said the trainer.
“The second horse (Redzel) was brilliant too and probably a bit stiff to run into our bloke producing a freakish performance, but it was on the cards with the blinkers on as we felt they’d improved him three lengths in his work.”
Hayes is not concerned about any ‘second-up syndrome’ with the gelding. “That’s not an issue. He was second up when he beat Stratum Star and struck a heavy track in Sydney second up after he won the Newmarket,” he said.
He added that if he goes, Redkirk Warrior would go into the Royal Ascot meeting first up. “It’s not locked in yet. I would want to see him run very well again in the Newmarket. We’ll keep our options open.
“At some stage, I’d like to try him as a weight-for-age horse and a race like the Memsie Stakes at 1400 metres in the spring would be perfect. Stepping up to 1400 wouldn’t trouble him. He reminds me of a very good horse, Shaftesbury Avenue. Even looks like him,” he said.
Shaftesbury Avenue won the Lightning-Newmarket double in 1991 before winning Group Ones at 1600 and 2000 metres and running third in the Japan Cup later that year .
Hayes’s one previous sprint foray to Royal Ascot came with now Widden Stud-based stallion Nicconi, who finished fourth in the 2010 King’s Stand Stakes. “He missed the start and was last with a furlong to go. He ran very well. Like Redkirk Warrior, he came from near last to win the Lightning and he also won a Galaxy. He was a very, very good horse and very good fresh like Redkirk. I wouldn’t necessarily say Redkirk Warrior was better than him,” Hayes said.
“Nicconi’s also become a very good sire,” he added. “We’ve got some really good ones by him.” They include the recent Dubai winner Faatinah.
Australia’s four winners of the King’s Stand Stakes had each won the Lightning Stakes in the same year – Choisir (2003), Takeover Target (2006), Miss Andretti (2007) and Scenic Blast (2009). Black Caviar also won the Lightning in 2012 en route to her Diamond Jubilee Stakes success.
It would certainly be newsworthy if Redkirk Warrior, who’s never been too far from the news, could add his name to that list.
The horse, known as Redkirk in Britain, generated plenty of interest from the word go – graduating from his maiden win to a 95-rated success at Ascot at his second start. You sense then that his original trainer, William Haggas, knew he was better than average but that buyers would come knocking.
Haggas then told the Racing Post. “He is still immature and will be a better horse in a year’s time if his owners hold on to him.”
And when he first appeared in Hong Kong in January 2015, his run from last to fifth at Sha Tin resulted in Hong Kong Jockey Club stewards suspending French jockey Gerald Mosse until that April over his handling of the horse. He was charged with failing to take all reasonable and permissible measures in a race to win or to achieve the best possible placing.
Redkirk Warrior then beat the high-class Hong Kong miler Contentment at his second start in Hong Kong before running second in the Classic Cup to Thunder Fantasy, who was three times Group One-placed in Australia before his export.
Redkirk Warrior was first sold to Jill Lamb for 22,000 guineas at the 2012 renewal of Book Two of Tattersalls October Yearling Sale.
In other news, Hayes said that the stable was awaiting the result of an ECG before determining the immediate future for Formality, who finished last in the Lightning Stakes after an episode of atrial fibrillation.
The stable is also hopeful it’s other dual Group One-winning sprinter Vega Magic, sidelined since a paddock mishap in late November, will reappear before season’s end.
“He’s recovering well,” said Hayes. “It’s conceivable he could go to a race like the T J Smith at the Championships in Sydney but it’s more likely we’d aim to win the Goodwood in Adelaide again with him.”
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