Declan Rix

Former William Haggas inmate Redkirk Warrior returns to British shores from Australia for Royal Ascot this season as Declan Rix takes a closer look at the well-travelled seven-year-old.

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One of the great aspects of Royal Ascot each year is seeing foreign horses compete on British Flat racing’s grandest stage. Their presence adds another dimension to a brilliant week and tends to generate much discussion among media, journalists, trainers and race fans.

No one really knows how these overseas raiders will translate their form having travelled the world to compete, despite looking superstars in their homeland, and that’s what makes them competing so intriguing.

Able Friend of Hong Kong, Black Caviar of Australia and Tepin of America are three international stars that came to the Royal meeting in recent seasons having been the dominate forces in their respective disciplines at home.

Able Friend couldn’t adapt to the stiff straight-mile test of the 2015 Queen Anne Stakes, a far cry from the tight, flat, right-handed turns of Sha Tin, and was well-held by Solow. On the other hand, Tepin would show amazing adaptability to win the Queen Anne the following year while few of us can forget Black Caviar’s last gasp 2012 Diamond Jubilee Stakes success.

You must go back to 2011 for the last Royal meeting that didn’t produce a foreign winner, a statement that doesn’t include the European contingent of France, Germany and Ireland, and one of this year’s most intriguing horses to potentially keep that good run going is Australian sprinter Redkirk Warrior.

This is a homecoming for the seven-year-old son of Notnowcato. Having been foaled in Yorkshire in the same year foreign raiders last experienced a barren Royal Ascot, the then named Redkirk would be trained in Newmarket by William Haggas.

Having failed to make the track as a juvenile, the chestnut would go unbeaten in his first two starts as a three-year-old, breaking his maiden at Yarmouth over 10f by five lengths before going on to win over the same trip in an Ascot handicap off 88, a race his then trainer felt he was “badly handicapped” for.

In 2015, Hong Kong owners would acquire Redkirk from the Scotney/Symonds/Fisher Partnership, seeing the horse shipped to the Far East to trainer Chris So in a move that would see him become Redkirk Warrior.

In the 18-month stint in his new jurisdiction, race fans would see him race five times, with form figures of 51205.  The four-year-old had only manged to make the race-track seven times before he was shipped on again, this time to Australia to David Hayes and his training partners who, will appear on the Royal Ascot card as David A & B Hayes & Tom Dabernig. It’s fair to say from the outside looking in, Redkirk Warrior hadn’t been the easiest to train.

In fact, having spent time in training with Hayes and his team the decision was made to retire Redkirk Warrior from racing, such were the problems facing the gelding. Reports in Australia shed light on his soundness issues, his current connections blaming badly aligned feet for consistent lameness. 

So, how has a horse with just seven career starts in as four years, gone from being retired to winning five of his subsequent nine starts Down Under, three of those coming in Group 1 contests? The answer lay in David Hayes’s farrier who “did a fantastic job reshaping his feet and changing his angles” when speaking to Steve Moran of ANZ Bloodstock News.

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 has blossomed here because of the work of our farrier and also the country environment, and his feet are fine now”.

Redkirk Warrior wins the Newmarket Handicap
Redkirk Warrior is a fascinating runner at Royal Ascot

That’s an understatement from Hayes given Redkirk Warrior’s last two wins have come in Group 1s on Flemington’s straight track; the Black Caviar Lightning Stakes over 5f and the Lexus Newmarket Handicap over 6f.

Competing in the latter race has been a successful Royal Ascot stepping stone for past Australian sprinters like Choisir who finished sixth at Flemington before going on to a remarkable 2003 double in winning the King's Stand Stakes and the Golden Jubilee Stakes.

Takeover Target would win both the Newmarket Handicap and the King’s Stand in 2006 while Scenic Blast did the same three years later. Miss Andretti’s Newmarket success came in between those victories, although she won at the Caulfield track before winning the 2007 King’s Stand.

Another trend that looks a positive for the chances of Redkirk Warrior is his ability to run well fresh. In his career so far, he has defied breaks of 608 days, 119, 154 and 98 while also winning on his debut. Depending on which Royal Ascot race connections aim him at, the King’s Stand or the Diamond Jubilee, this is the favoured of the two, he’ll have just over 100 days break since his last run. This appears a positive from a cursory glance at the formbook.

Furthermore, the form of his latest victory has given nonchalant Australian racing followers a good look at the level of ability he holds. In that Newmarket success at Flemington, just a short-head and a head separated him and the now Aidan O’Brien-trained Merchant Navy.

On his first start for O’Brien since moving to the northern hemisphere, the son of Fastnet Rock would go on to win the Group 2 Greenlands Stakes in impressive fashion, especially when you consider his trainer couldn’t have been any more negative on his chance pre-race, citing potential fitness issues.

Not only did Merchant Navy beat older horses under a penalty, he did so to the likes of Tasleet and Brando. Adding flesh to the bones, Tasleet was a neck runner-up in last season’s Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot and Brando was an unlucky third in last year’s July Cup to Harry Angel and, a subsequent Group 1 winner.

Collateral form should never be fully relied on, but it’s safe to say the form of Redkirk Warrior needs serious respecting. What enhances his reputation even further, is the fact in beating Merchant Navy in March’s Group 1 Newmarket, he gave the now O’Brien-trained inmate an incredible 12lb.

Should they clash in the Diamond Jubilee, they will do so on level terms, just 105 days later. Has the Coolmore-owned horse improved that much in such a short space of time? While Merchant Navy has obviously acclimatised well since his move, that has yet to be proved by Redkirk Warrior, but in truth, he’s the one coming home and may well have no issues performing to his best, especially with Frankie Dettori booked to take the ride.

At 13/2, he looks a value bet in the Diamond Jubilee. A victory there on his 17th career start would top off his fascinating story. 

Declan Rix
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