William Haggas believes you need a fresh horse to compete in horse racing’s international winter prizes and in “reformed character” Young Rascal he has just that.
Haggas is a patient man with a long-term approach, attributes which were most obvious in 2018 when he masterminded the campaign of rare talent Sea Of Class, having resisted running her at all as a juvenile. His skill at delivering a horse fresh for a big win was best illustrated when Shaamit took the 1996 Group 1 Derby at Epsom at his first start that season.
However, it might be argued that neither of those stars tested his patience as much as the talented, as yet unfulfilled, four-year-old Young Rascal, who has always competed for his trainer’s affections and will line up in a competitive renewal of the Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) on Sunday.
Owned by Investec boss Bernard Kantor, Derby dreams were set alight after the colt landed Group 3 Chester Vase success in May 2018 when he beat top-class performers Dee Ex Bee, Hunting Horn and Ispolini. But he looked awkward at Epsom and could only manage seventh.
His trainer’s tolerance paid dividends when he returned to the racecourse that autumn with two narrow Group 3 victories at Newbury and the horse who had garnered much attention at Somerville Lodge stables was back on track and in the good books.
He was back to his old tricks at the start of this season though, finishing fifth of nine in the Group 3 John Porter Stakes at Newbury before an alarming sixth of seven in the Group 2 Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket forced connections to go back to the drawing board.
“We felt he didn’t really put it in at Newbury first time, he may have been a bit rusty but we had him pretty fit. At Newmarket he didn’t run properly, for us he wasn’t focused at all,” his trainer said.
“He was awful in the spring so we cut him and gave him the summer off and he came back and ran a pretty smart race at Kempton. I thought he was a little bit rusty and when he came to take it up, he hesitated a bit, but when Tom [Marquand] gave him one he stretched away nicely.”
That easy win in the Listed Floodlit Stakes on Kempton’s Polytrack last month proved he had the engine to match his looks, as well as a new maturity, perhaps, and set the wheels in motion for Haggas’s Hong Kong plan.
Yet to win at the Hong Kong International Races, he came closest with his first runner in 2002 when Dupont finished seventh in the Mile, while 2011 Oaks heroine Dancing Rain – his only runner in the Vase – was one place worse in 2012. Last year, his two-time Group 1 Prix de la Foret winner One Master was eighth in the Mile.
The handler is hopeful the Vase is the perfect fit for Young Rascal, one of the most unexposed horses in the 14-strong field, and he has taken the journey in his stride according to Haggas’s staff on the ground, with the gelding now in better condition than ever having been allowed time to grow into his frame.
“This is a perfect fit, it’s a month since Kempton. He’s been very good, he’s been training really well this autumn, he’s definitely a reformed character to the one he used to be,” Haggas said.
“The idea was to campaign him in the autumn in the smarter races in September, so he’s been a bit slower than we thought but the Hong Kong race fits nicely and now they have put a race on in Saudi Arabia and there’s Dubai – there are lots of options for him.
“Obviously he’s gelded now so his value is different. You have to have a fresh horse for a race like that, I hope anyway, and he’ll certainly be that.”
With Haggas targeting races from Saudi Arabia to Sydney – he made mention of the Sydney Cup, too – Young Rascal will be hoping to kick off his first foreign voyage with a promising performance and in six-time HKIR winner Frankie Dettori he will have the perfect partner.
Twenty-three years since his first – which came in the 1996 Vase aboard Luso – this season’s LONGINES World’s Best Jockey has returned in as good form as ever and hungry for more success.
He too believes Young Rascal’s freshness could be a potent weapon and is looking forward to partnering the son of Intello. The pair will face last year’s Vase hero Exultant, Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck and some of Japan’s finest middle-distance gallopers in the HK$20 million contest.
Dettori said: “He’s a nice horse, he’s got lots of potential and he has low mileage. It looks a very tough race but he’s there with a chance.”