Caspar Fownes’ chance with the lowly rated Explosive Witness (113lb) paid off at Sha Tin yesterday (Friday, 1 January) as the Australian-bred exceeded expectations to snare the HK$3.5 million Group 3 Bauhinia Sprint Trophy Handicap (1000m).
“It’s magic when you get a winning result like that, you go in there hoping he’ll pick up some prize money for second, third or fourth but to win – it’s magic – well deserved for the owners,” Fownes said.
On a rating of 92, the Star Witness gelding upstaged better credentialed rivals and carried bottom-weight to victory, as top-rater Computer Patch (133lb) – who sits on a mark of 115 – faded to the rear of the five-runner field after finishing a close-up sixth in December’s Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m).
“He’s (Explosive Witness) a horse who wasn’t that far out of the ratings – that’s why I decided to put him in and you take your chances in these sort of races when they have no weight on their back,” Fownes said.
Under Frenchman Alexis Badel, the six-year-old bay tracked the leaders before getting the better of his four opponents in a close finish, staving off Stronger (120lb) and last season’s winner, Big Party (128lb) by a neck, clocking 56.66s down the Sha Tin straight.
“He’s racing really well – his 1000 metre form at Happy Valley has been superb running off big sectionals and he deserved the chance under handicap conditions to take them on – it was a tightly bunched finish but it’s wonderful for the result to go my way,” Fownes said.
“It was a good ride to pick up – he’s a talented horse – he has plenty of speed,” Badel said. “The pace wasn’t very fast but I just had to try and hold him and keep something for the finish because he can be very a fast horse and he’s got a better turn of foot when you settle aboard him – he was able to relax at the halfway mark and pick in very good style.”
Explosive Witness now has four wins from his last five starts, and prior to export was a one-time winner in Australia at Moonee Valley Racecourse in 2017.
“I’m very happy for the owners they have been very patient, this horse has had so many setbacks it hasn’t been much fun,” Fownes said.
The gelding has had his fair share of setbacks, some that sidelined him for 12 months prior to his Hong Kong debut, and last year he was found to be lame once, and as well, suffered a ligament issue.
“Every time I get him up for racing he just goes by the wayside and it’s nice to finally be able to train him the way I want to – he’s won four out of his last five starts and he wasn’t disgraced the start prior at Happy Valley over 1200m,” the handler added.
Today’s win was Badel’s second at Pattern race level in Hong Kong, after taking the 2019 Group 3 January Cup Handicap (1800m) aboard Simply Brilliant at Happy Valley.
“It was a very good effort from the horse and it’s amazing to win the race,” Badel said.
“He’s a nice horse, the last few seasons I observed that this race has been very successful with light weight runners so I think it was a huge advantage for this horse who is in very good form,” he added.
With the Group 1 Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m) looming on 24 January, the championship leading trainer didn’t indicate any intention to enter his charge for the HK$12 million contest.
“We’ll see (to contesting big sprint races this season) – he’s still wants to get his head up and he doesn’t do things right, he doesn’t help himself but if the speed is on then that’s his chance to quicken up and get the job done, so look he’s done his job for us,” Fownes said.
“He goes to Conghua on Tuesday (5 January) for a little break – he’s earned it and we’ll bring him back later on,” he added.
Today’s Group 3 success was Fownes’ 36th win this term, after debutant Master Fay took the opener, the Class 4 Palm Handicap (1200m).
”It’s a beautiful start – long may it continue,” the three-time champion trainer said.