Just over a year ago, Hugo Palmer’s career took a new direction. After 11 years in Newmarket, the Classic-winning trainer made the decision to up sticks and move 280 kilometres northwest, to the English county of Cheshire, and take the reins as trainer at former football star Michael Owen’s state-of-the-art Manor House Stables.
Palmer is no stranger to success on the big occasions outside the United Kingdom. Indeed, he was first catapulted into the spotlight when landing the Group One Irish Oaks with Covert Love in 2015.
More recently, just two months after arriving at Manor House Stables last March, the trainer hit the headlines once again, when saddling Brad The Brief to win the Group Two Greenlands Stakes at The Curragh.
And in February of this year, Palmer broke new ground for Owen’s stable, when Flaming Rib won the Dukhan Sprint, a local Group Three, in Qatar.
On Sunday, the attention turns to Hong Kong, and specifically the Group One Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1,200m), as Flaming Rib attempts to go one place better than a horse Owen bred, Big Time Baby, did in 2020.
With two overseas trips already under his belt in 2023 – the second to Dubai, where he failed to fire in the Al Quoz Sprint – Flaming Rib is now well accustomed to travelling long distances, and this week Palmer was happy to report that his horse has, as expected, settled in nicely at Sha Tin.
“He seems to have travelled great. He’s fresh and well and isn’t having to put up with this miserable cold weather that we’re all shivering through in the UK,” Palmer said ahead of his first Hong Kong runner.
“I go out at the end of the week and I’m looking forward to seeing him, but in the pictures of him he looks great.”
While Palmer is hopeful that Flaming Rib can bring home a cut of the prize money on Sunday, he is remaining realistic about the challenge he faces against local stars Lucky Sweynesse and Wellington.
“The two horses at the top of the ratings are quite a long way clear of anything that he’s met in Europe or Qatar, so he’s probably got his work cut out. But he’s in very good form and if he got a decent draw and the race went well for him, we’d be delighted if he could run a place,” Palmer said.
“It’s a [HK$20 million] race, it’s an enormous amount of money. The owners are very excited and flattered to be invited. They were very keen to go and travel the world.”
But make no mistake, this is far from a jolly holiday for the owners, with Michael Owen not even able to attend due to Premier League commentary commitments. On the contrary, Palmer believes the 1,200m Sha Tin contest could suit his sprinter down to the ground.
“He was a winner at Chester last year, beating the [Group Two] Temple Stakes winner, and he was very good in Qatar. There’s a slight feeling that he might be better going around a bend, and all the good sprints in the UK are in a straight line,” Palmer said.
“Having said that, he did run very well in the Haydock Sprint Cup to finish fourth, [and] he was second to Perfect Power in the Commonwealth Cup.”
Flaming Rib is one of several horses for whom Palmer has high hopes back on home turf this
year, as the UK turf season prepares to shift into top gear with the QIPCO Guineas Festival at Newmarket next weekend.
“If a trainer isn’t excited at this point in the year, they shouldn’t be doing the job. We’ve got some very exciting two-year-olds, but then every trainer would say that,” Palmer said.
“We have a couple of lovely stayers in Rajinsky and Zoffee. Rajinsky won a Listed race the other day and we’re quite hopeful he can step up into Cup company this year.
“We’re also looking forward to seeing what Brad The Brief can do, he’s done very well with another winter on his back, he was a Group Two winner last time. Stenton Glider’s 25-1 for the [1,000] Guineas but the filly she was second to is 6-1, so we feel we go there with a lively outside chance.”
A solid performance from Flaming Rib in Sunday’s sprint would certainly send Palmer and his Manor House Stables team into the first Classic meeting of the UK season with a spring in their step, and a confidence that the operation is moving in the right direction.
“It’s been great, but there’s still a huge amount to do. Both Michael and I have great ambitions for the yard and what we want to achieve, and we’re both excited about how it’s going,” he
“Winning a race in Qatar, travelling horses around the world and a filly who will go to the 1,000 Guineas – it’s where we want to be. We want to be running in big international races, we want to be competing in Classics and Group Ones in this country, and we want to build the yard.
We’ve got about 115 horses at the moment and we want to try and build a powerhouse stable and train many more.”
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