By David Morgan
Dubai was on everyone’s lips in the lead-up to the Class 1 Penfold Park Handicap (1200m, dirt) at Sha Tin tonight, Wednesday, 18 January, with Dundonnell and Fabulous One touted as G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen candidates. Both remain set for a plane ride to the emirate despite losing out this time to the gutsy Eroico.
Few in the crowd could have called the result with any confidence as Eroico (117lb), Almababy (104lb), Dundonnell (133lb) and the wilting front-runner Fabulous One (130lb) flashed past the post in a frantic four-way blitz. When the still frame appeared on Sha Tin’s big screen, John Size’s charge had it by a nose.
Winning rider Karis Teetan whooped and punched the air when official confirmation was announced.
“My horse didn’t stop, he just kept grinding right through the line,” Teetan said of the 6.5 chance. “John had him spot-on for this race and he had a nice weight on his back. He travelled strongly under me and when I turned for home and sent him, he didn’t change gear quickly, he just kept grinding, grinding right to the line.
“Last time he won over 1650 (metres) and won a good race; today they went fast, they burned petrol and he was able to finish. That suited him – he ran a very good race.”
The winner stopped the clock at 1m 08.65s, driving home through the concluding 400m in 23.18s.
Fabulous One, having his first race since June, took the eight runners through fast early fractions of 22.81s and 22.18s under Oisin Murphy. But lack of a recent race told late on as he faded through the final 400m in 23.69s to finish fourth, a head behind the winner.
“Yes, Dubai is still on,” the five-year-old’s trainer Chris So declared. “That was a good run. I’m happy with the horse – of course, if he’d won I’d have been happier. But he carried 130 (pounds) and he’s run really well.
“The sectionals were quick early and he stayed on well, he just got tired the last strides, which is understandable, this is his first run for a long time and with that weight, too.”
So’s old boss, Caspar Fownes, had much the same to say about Dundonnell. The seven-year-old was having his first race on dirt and closed strongly from the rear under Silvestre de Sousa to finish a short-head third. The top-weight was the only runner to break 23 seconds in the run home, clocking 22.95s for the final 400m.
“I’m very keen to take him to Dubai after that,” Fownes said. “I’m happy, that was a great effort, carrying 133 (pounds) against some seasoned dirt horses there. He’s run on really well. I’d have liked to have seen him just truck up through them but things didn’t go according to plan. Another stride or two past the post he was there.
“He’s a dirt horse, there’s no doubt about it,” Fownes asserted. “I think it will play into his hands going the other direction, too. I’ll speak to the owner and if he’s happy, I’m keen to go.”
Super Saturday at Meydan could be on the agenda for Dunonnell – as well as stablemate Gun Pit – before an engagement on the Dubai World Cup card at the end of March.
“We’ll see,” Fownes said. “I’ve got the programme and we’ll have a look. We were looking to going in early February with him and Gun Pit, so I’ll meet with the owners in the next couple of days but there’s no reason why they wouldn’t be on board after that effort”
Eroico will likely make do with Sha Tin. And that suits the tough six-year-old who was registering a sixth Hong Kong win at start 30. The Australian-bred now has two wins and two placings from five starts on Sha Tin’s all-weather track.
Four for the Class 5 king
“Make way for the Class Five trainer!” was Fownes’ self-mocking refrain after race two. The trainer had just sealed a double to kick off the evening’s action, both in the lowest grade. He went on to complete a four-timer.
Joao Moreira did the steering job on Born Dragon (131lb) in the first, the Kowloon Tsai Park Handicap (1200m). The 2.8 favourite crossed the line two and a quarter lengths clear of runner-up Ambitious Speedy (126lb).
“He showed some improvement his last couple of races,” Fownes said. “He’s a horse that’s been quite light in condition so it was nice to see him put some weight on leading into this race. He’s just taken a lot of time to strengthen up, so he’s the sort of horse that can keep improving, as long as he can just keep holding his bodyweight around this mark.”
Brett Prebble was exuberant in his celebrations after Sweet Bean (128lb) got up at the wire to pip Vivacious Winner (114lb) by a short-head in the second race, the Sha Tin Park Handicap (1800m).
“He’s had a lot of races but he’s consistent,” Fownes said of the five-time winner. “He’s got a lot tougher this season. He’s versatile – he handles the dirt, Sha Tin grass, Happy Valley; he’s slow but he’s won a few races now.”
The three-time champion trainer made it three wins on the night in race six, the Class 3 Hong Kong Park Handicap (1650m). Douglas Whyte was the man in the plate as Sky King (126lb) won out in another tight call, the four-year-old edging Beauty Prince (132lb) by a neck. Whyte last rode a winner for Fownes in March, 2011.
“Douglas gave it a perfect ride on the horse’s first start on the dirt, he got him going at the right time. I’m happy for the 13-time champion to get a winner for me,” Fownes said.
The handler made it an emphatic four wins in race seven, the Class 4 Morse Park Handicap (1800m). Vanilla (131lb) – returned at 6.4 – scooted well clear down the stretch and kept on extending under Keith Yeung to register a 10-length victory.
“He’s been going well and dropping into this class was a big plus for him,” Fownes said. “He’s not a Class 4 horse, he’s a dirt horse. But there aren’t many races for him. He’s a real stayer and he’s just better than them in this grade at this sort of distance. There’s very little for him now – if we could get 2000-metre dirt races in Class 3 he’d be very competitive.”
The Tony Cruz-trained BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) entrant California Whip (133lb) made light work of his rivals to win the closer, the Class 3 Victoria Park Handicap (1200m). Neil Callan drove the Giant’s Causeway gelding to the third fastest time at the course and distance this season, stopping the clock at 1m 08.45s.
Born Dragon and Joao Moreira kicked off a four-timer for trainer Caspar Fownes.
Eroico (red & white) gets the nod in a four-way finish.