Caspar Fownes has never been one to shirk a challenge and this Sunday (20 February) at Sha Tin the reigning champion trainer has armed himself with a powerful quartet from the stable, taking aim at both the Group 1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) and Group 1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m).
Sky Darci, Columbus County and Zebrowski face the might of Golden Sixty in the Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup, while Sky Field is looking to overthrow Waikuku in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup.
And much like when Rise High dethroned Beauty Generation for Fownes in 2019 or when Southern Legend copied that effort in the 2020 FWD Champions Mile – this weekend, the handler is hoping for similar in each of the HKD$12 million contests.
Stepping up to 2000m for the second time in his career and first since his win in the 2021 BMW Hong Kong Derby, Fownes believes Sky Darci – who pairs with Karis Teetan – is after a timely rise in distance.
“I felt that in his first two runs this season he was very unlucky, he should have got the win that’s for sure, but since then his form has just been average, he’s been coming out of the gates nice and slow, looking like he wants to go over further.
“So, we’re giving him that chance on the weekend and let’s hope it plays into our hands and that he can pick up a nice cheque for the owners,” Fownes said.
Sky Darci flashed from the tail of the field in his first two runs this campaign, however, he’s only returned one top-three finish since then – at Group 2 level in the BOCHK Private Wealth Jockey Club Mile (1600m) last November.
“He was out the back in last and he quickened up nicely to get the job done (in his latest trial), but again this is a race you have Golden Sixty and also probably the next star of Hong Kong in Russian Emperor – I feel he’s a very, very smart horse who is starting to really hit his straps at the right time.
“So, there’s a lot of depth in the race, but you know what, we’re one start for one win at 2000 metres, so we’ll go there and hope we can be competitive,” Fownes said.
Zebrowski – Group 1-placed in the 2020 Australian Derby (2400m) at Randwick Racecourse in Sydney, Australia – steps out following consecutive Group 3 wins, shaping as a wildcard entrant this weekend.
“He’s rated 106 (in Hong Kong), he’s a horse who we don’t know what his true rating is, so I’ve thrown him in the deep end here, it’s always a little bit hit and miss but his rating could easily end up being 120.
“So, we’re giving him his chance to show us what he has got at this stage of his prep and I’m sure that come the end of the season, when we stretch him out over even further, that he’ll be very competitive, he looks like a very good staying horse for the stable over the next couple of seasons,” the handler said.
Zebrowski will have to do it the hard way this weekend under set weights conditions as one of the lowest rated horses (locally) in the race, with each runner assigned 126lb.
Rounding out Fownes’ trio in the Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup is Columbus County – third in the 2020 Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) – vying for an elusive top-level crown.
“His run the other day was really good, he only just got beaten by over two lengths over 1800 metres – 2000 metres is still on the short side, I think his best is seen over 2400 metres.
“But I think he’s in great nick and we’re just there to do our best – hopefully one of them can get the job done but we’ll be trying our best,” Fownes said.
Fownes has 22 wins this season, including Sky Field’s success in the Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m); this weekend the chestnut is sizing up Waikuku in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup.
“He’s pleased me since (his last run), he had a nice trial last Tuesday where he was nice and relaxed before quickening up the last part. He had a little bit of work on the grass Tuesday morning (15 February) and he looks to be ticking all of the right boxes – we’re looking forward to this race,” Fownes said.
The Deep Field gelding finished a close-up second to Stronger in last month’s Group 1 Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m), while his last run over 1400m, in the 2021 Group 3 Premier Cup Handicap returned a comfortable victory ahead of stablemate Sky Darci.
“The key with this horse is that he’s a much better horse just tucked in behind and following something before being produced a little bit later in the race.
“The other day, his last run was enormous because he was flushed out on the corner which took away his natural ability to really cut loose and he still went down well in a nail-biting finish – I think once we put him in behind something, switch him off and produce him over the last part then you’ll probably see the best of the horse,” Fownes said.
Blake Shinn takes the reins this weekend against Waikuku, Ka Ying Star, Wellington, Mighty Giant, Healthy Happy, Lucky Express and Californiadeepshot.
“I believe the key with him is for him to learn to respect Blake (Shinn) and switch off and know what we want of him, and I think he’s finally starting to get that in his head, that he realises what we want.
“In his final bit of work, he was very good, he followed them, he was nice and relaxed, and he picked up when we wanted him to, it’s all coming together for him,” Fownes said.
Sky Field clocked 1m 21.3s (29.0, 28.5, 23.8) in his turf gallop at Sha Tin Tuesday morning (15 February).
“It’s going to be a good race, Waikuku is the one to beat and we respect him, but I think stepping up to 1400 metres is not going to be an issue and I think it’s going to be a very good race,” the trainer said.
Fownes won the 2012 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup with the brilliant Lucky Nine.