By Andrew Hawkins
Hong Kong is not a jurisdiction renowned for its dirt horses, but its representatives have performed well in dirt races in Dubai in recent years and Wednesday night’s (18 January) all-dirt meeting at Sha Tin looks set to throw up another pair of G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen (1200m) candidates in the form of Fabulous One and Dundonnell, who contest the Class 1 Penfold Park Handicap (1200m).
In the two years since the Meydan surface switched from Tapeta to dirt, Rich Tapestry has won the G3 Al Shindagha Sprint (1200m), Super Jockey and Rich Tapestry finished second and third respectively in the 2015 Golden Shaheen and Gun Pit took second in the G1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (2000m).
This year, Hong Kong has seven entrants for three dirt races on Dubai World Cup night on 25 March, and like David Hall-trained Master Kochanwong last year, both Chris So’s Fabulous One and Caspar Fownes-trained Dundonnell will be hoping to use Wednesday night’s Class 1 feature as a stepping stone to a shot at desert riches.
Fabulous One was last season’s Most Improved Horse, taking his domestic rating from a low of 46 to a high of 107 with five wins and one second from eight runs. The five-year-old has not raced since a Happy Valley Class 2 success in June and has had only one trial to prepare him for his dirt debut on Wednesday night, a second to Dundonnell on 6 January, but So is excited about what may lie in store should he live up to his potential on the all-weather track.
“Honestly, the horse is maybe 70 or 80 per cent,” the handler said at Sha Tin trackwork on Tuesday morning (17 January). “I was happy with the trial though and that is what we have planned all along, to target this race and if he ran well, we’d send him to Dubai. He’s always trialled so well on dirt and he is by Elusive City, so he’s bred for it. I always thought his best would come on the all-weather track.”
Fabulous One picked up a small injury in August that ruled him out of an early-season target, but the decision to ease up and prepare him for dirt races later in the term was a straightforward one for So.
“It was just a joint problem, nothing serious,” he said. “But at the time that it occurred, we didn’t have much planned for him – just the first day of the season, the Class 1 (the HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup Handicap), but we weren’t planning on running him in the international races in December. So we decided to give him a break, send him to a paddock at Beas River for a little bit, and aim for this race and hopefully Dubai. I was hoping to give him two trials but it has not been enough time for two, so hopefully one is enough.”
“We’ve entered him for a lead-up race on February 11, just a handicap. Then the second run would be the 4th of March, Super Saturday (the G3 Mahab Al Shimaal over 1200m) if it all goes well, and then the 25th of March.”
While he is waiting to see how Fabulous One returns, So has already started making plans and has consulted his old boss Fownes about his possible Dubai visitors too.
“If he runs well, we’d fly at the end of this month,” So said. “The quarantine is only a couple of days so we’d look to give him at least a week to settle in, but we don’t want to send him too early. Let’s see, because I’d try to go with the other company. Maybe my old boss, Caspar, he may have a couple going over at the same time. I hope Fabulous One can run well tomorrow and let’s see how he finishes.”
Fownes himself admits that his Dubai plans hinge on how Dundonnell performs at his maiden attempt on dirt, with the son of First Defence switching surfaces at his 41st career start.
“I’ve been waiting for him to get an opportunity to race on this surface, I think he’ll be very well suited by it,” Fownes said of the HKG2 winner. “He’s a bit of a funny horse to ride but luckily, we’ve drawn gate three so he should get a nice run in just behind the speed. And if all goes to plan, I think he’ll run a very nice race. He’s a good horse, I just think he’s been crying out for this surface.
“He is on trial for Dubai, certainly. He’d have to run up to my expectations and obviously he carries the top weight here, there’s a few nice dirt horses in the race. So if he can win or be up to them, it’d be something we’d certainly be looking forward to.”
Fownes has two entries for Dubai, with the trainer also looking to return to Meydan with Gun Pit, an admirable second in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 on Super Saturday last year before fading to last in the G1 Dubai World Cup (2000m) three weeks later.
The trainer confirmed that despite a couple of small issues, Gun Pit is on track to have a multi-start campaign in Dubai.
“He’s like most of the older horses, he’s a bit jointy,” Fownes said. “There’s a bit of wear and tear, but we’re just trying to go forward and look at a couple of races in Dubai and see what happens.”
Gun Pit’s name was only among entries for the G2 Godolphin Mile (1600m) last week and was not put forward for any lead-up races, but Fownes said that he will head over early with a number of dirt mile races under consideration. However, Gun Pit’s plans also depend on how stablemate Dundonnell fares on Wednesday night.
“The entries in Dubai are fluid,” Fownes said. “They are pretty straightforward so we didn’t need to get an entry in for the lead-up races last week, just for the main races. We entered him in the Godolphin Mile this year instead of the World Cup, his record over a dirt mile is good and it’s a good race for him. But as for what we run him in beforehand, we’ll just feel our way, give him a couple of races before that over there.
“Our plan at the moment is that we’ll trial up and then go, but he’s a fit horse, he looks well, his wind is very good and hopefully he’ll perform. There are a couple of races that are looking good along the way but we haven’t set a path, we’re actually waiting to see what happens tomorrow night with Dundonnell. If he runs a big race, they’ll go together, that’s what I’ve been waiting for – take them both over together for a couple of races, including Super Saturday.”
The Class 1 Penfold Park Handicap (1200m) is the third of eight races on the all-dirt card at Sha Tin on Wednesday night and is scheduled to jump at 8:15pm, with the first race, the Class 5 Kowloon Tsai Park Handicap (1200m), set for 7:15pm.
Fabulous One makes all for a comfortable win over 1200m at Happy Valley in June.
Dundonnell gets the better of Gold-Fun to claim the HKG2 Sprint Cup in April 2015.