Caspar Fownes is no stranger to using the Class 1 HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup Handicap (1200m) as a pathway to LONGINES Hong Kong International Races glory and the trainer holds high hopes that Southern Legend can stamp himself as a December candidate with a positive effort in Sunday’s (2 September) feature.
Fownes won the traditional season-opening highlight in 2010 with Lucky Nine, who a year later added the Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) to his record, the pinnacle in an illustrious career.
While Southern Legend is yet to prove himself as belonging in the same company as Lucky Nine, the handler believes that the six-year-old – a last-start winner of the Kranji Mile in Singapore – is ready for what will be his toughest season to date.
“He’s coming along really well,” Fownes said at Sha Tin on Friday morning (31 August).
“Obviously, the 1200m will be a bit on the sharp side for him and the 133lb is a concern, giving some nice young horses a bit of weight. But he’s very well in himself and we’ll just try to progress through each race coming up into December.”
The December feature that Fownes is eyeing off with Southern Legend is the HK$25m Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile, a race which the trainer won with The Duke in 2006.
“I think the Mile will suit him, he’ll be cherry ripe by then,” he said.
“He likes his racing so we’ll follow a similar path to last year, except he’s got the rating on the board this time so I think he’s there, ready to fight with the big boys.”
Southern Legend finished fifth – on the limit of 113lb – in last year’s HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup, which was won by subsequent Group 1 winner Seasons Bloom. However, Fownes believes that the Not A Single Doubt gelding is a different specimen compared to this time last year.
“He’s a lot stronger and he keeps improving,” Fownes said.
“That said, I know that at the distance with that weight he’ll find it tough. If he can run in the first three, I’ll be very happy, but as a rule in this particular race, the light-weights have a huge advantage and they tend to perform really well first-up too.
“For us, it’s all about December, so hopefully you’ll be seeing the real Southern Legend in November and December – that’s the aim.”
Chad Schofield, who is unbeaten from one ride on Southern Legend, will be legged aboard the bay on Sunday.
The other runner in this year’s HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup who also contested last year’s event is the Chris So-trained Fabulous One (113lb). The noted pace-setter, who will be partnered by Jack Wong, will be one of the first horses to step out at Sha Tin having spent time at the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s new Conghua Racecourse over the off-season.
“You can see from his trial that he seems refreshed,” So said. “He was a happy horse up there, he was able to have all of his preparation up there and then come down here ready to trial. Right now, it’s great for the older horses – the turf track has hardly been used and there’s a lot of cushion, so it really suits them.
“Fabulous One should be running well. Obviously, it’s been more than two years since his last win but it’s been hard for him to get his rating down, he is so honest. I hope in the small field he can lead and hopefully the Conghua experience might give him that extra length to be able to win.”
The HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup is the third of 10 races at Sha Tin’s season opener and is set to jump at 2pm.
Bombay out to Blitz the last race for Fownes
The day’s closer, the Class 2 Albert Handicap (1400m), shapes as a fascinating race with a number of horses aiming to step up to the next level.
One such horse is the Fownes-trained Bombay Blitz (115lb). The chestnut, a Listed winner in Australia when named Detective, was finding his feet late last term, with Fownes believing he will be able to measure up in Class 2 in time.
“It’s been a wet summer so the moisture in the track is definitely a concern for me,” he said.
“He wants a mile too, you’ll see the best of him at that trip. I’d be confident that, once he gets over a longer trip, you’ll see what type of horse he is and I believe he’ll be able to get towards the top of Class 2.
“Horses that can perform at the top of Class 3 with a big weight can usually handle Class 2, it’s been proven time and time again. That race he ran in two starts ago, where you had the Derby winner (Ping Hai Star) and Frankie Lor’s horse (Simply Brilliant) with him not far away, to me that shows that he should be able to measure up.”
At the top of the weights is the Richard Gibson-trained Rattan (133lb). The Savabeel gelding finished midfield in both the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) and BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m), but he showed that his future may lie over shorter trips with an electrifying win over 1400m at the end of last season.
Jockey Neil Callan, who was aboard that day, is in the plate once more.
“He couldn’t have been more impressive that day – I thought he could win that day, but not like that – and I think Richard has found the key to him,” Callan said.
“He’d had a long break since the Derby to really let himself down and then he came back quite fresh, and obviously that’s the way to train him.
“He’s gone up in the ratings, he’s still in the same class but he has to carry quite a bit more weight. He seems to have done well for the break, physically he looks like he’s improved and he’s quite laidback. It’s a good starting point for him, but I really hope he can take the next step into Group company. I believe he’s capable, and if he does step up, then the programming will really suit him as the races are quite spaced.”
The Albert Handicap brings the curtain down on the season opener at 5.45pm, with the first race, the Class 4 Harcourt Handicap (1000m), to kick off the 2018/19 term at 1pm.