Southern Legend cemented his reputation as something of a giant-killer when defeating favourites Pakistan Star and Pingwu Spark in the Class 1 Rapper Dragon Handicap (1600m), the undercard highlight on Hong Kong Derby day at Sha Tin on Sunday (18 March).
In a six-runner race devoid of any noted speed horses, the Caspar Fownes-trained Southern Legend was sent to the front and led at moderate sectionals under Chad Schofield. The Not A Single Doubt five-year-old had a strong kick upon straightening, but looked set to be swamped by the giant grey Pingwu Spark at the 100 metres.
However, 16/1 shot Southern Legend (128lb) was able to find enough to stave off Pingwu Spark (117lb) by a short head, with the winner’s stablemate Joyful Trinity (121lb) just holding on for third. Pakistan Star (133lb), second-up after a long break, finished fourth.
“It is great to have a horse like this in the yard, a top-class Group 1 horse in the making,” Fownes said.
“It looked like the grey was going to beat us, but the last 20 metres, we were actually fighting back and the further the race got, we were stronger. It was a very good effort and a good ride – we went in there intending to settle handy but no one else wanted to lead, so they handed it to him, essentially.”
It was the second time Southern Legend had caused an upset this season. On Hong Kong International Races day in December, he became the first horse to beat Nothingilikemore, scoring at odds of 23/1.
“He is underrated but he just keeps stepping up,” Fownes said. “He keeps improving, but the exciting thing is, he still has improvement left in him. I think he’ll probably be at his absolute best in December this year.”
Fownes said that both Southern Legend and Joyful Trinity would head towards the G1 Champions Mile (1600m), one leg of a Group 1 triple-header at Sha Tin on 29 April. However, both gallopers may also be bound for foreign assignments before the end of the season.
“I love travelling, but obviously it depends on the owners,” Fownes said. “We’ll see how Southern Legend continues to progress but he could end up being a horse for the Yasuda Kinen. As for Joyful Trinity, I think he’ll be an ideal horse for the new Singapore Group 1, the Kranji Mile.”
Pingwu Spark lost few admirers with his gallant second, producing a race-fastest last 400m of 21.88s. The Benno Yung-trained galloper, who was partnered by Derek Leung, is likely to head to the G2 Chairman’s Trophy (1600m) on 8 April, where he may again meet the G1 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup-bound Pakistan Star.