By Andrew Hawkins
Caspar Fownes and Chris So prepared a third of the winners between them on the nine-race card at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (25 January), but both trainers had one eye on the Middle East as they prepare to send runners to Dubai over the Chinese New Year period.
Fownes scored a double, his success with Marvel Hero in the Class 2 Chater Handicap (1650m) adding to an earlier score with Imperial Seal in the Class 4 Queensway Handicap (1650m), but the handler’s focus at the end of the night was on likely Dubai shippers Dundonnell and Gun Pit and a crucial trackwork morning on Thursday (26 January).
“They’ll both leave on Sunday night (29 January) at this stage,” he said. “Dundonnell’s a definite. Gun Pit will gallop either tomorrow or Friday (27 January), preferably tomorrow, and as long as he pulls up OK, he’ll be going too. They will fly out with Fabulous One and the plan is to start them both on the 11th.”
The trainer still had one eye on his Happy Valley winners, though, in particular paying tribute to Imperial Seal (122lb) after the five-year-old made it two on the trot with an effortless Class 4 victory.
“He’s an honest guy,” Fownes said after the two and a quarter length win under Joao Moreira. “He’s had problem after problem after problem, he’s had his fair share, but it seems the penny’s now dropped with him and that was quite some win. He looks like he’ll be able to do it again, too.”
As for Marvel Hero (121lb), he was able to produce another wide-margin success at just his second run at the city track this season, and just the third of his career, adding to a three-length Class 3 win in December.
“He just needs pace on and he needs to be able to settle,” Fownes said. “If he gets that, then he’s fine. The 1650m here at Happy Valley, they tend to go hard early and then slow it down, which suits him enough. The softer track underfoot also helps. He’s always had the ability but it’s been a little tough to unlock it fully at times.”
For So, the victory of Rugby Diamond under Zac Purton in the Class 5 Edinburgh Handicap (1000m) continued his strong first half of the term, bringing up win number 30 for the trainer this season and taking him closer to one of two personal goals he set in September as the other becomes reality.
“I wanted to get 40 winners for the season and I wanted to take a horse overseas – not too greedy!” he said with a grin. “And one of those will definitely happen with Fabulous One leaving on Sunday for Dubai as he prepares for the 11th. Hopefully we can also get 10 more winners in the next 48 meetings and that would be a new best for me.”
So is sitting fourth in the trainers’ championship behind John Size, John Moore and Fownes, and he believes that it is crucial to get wins out of “limited” horses like Rugby Diamond (131lb) if he is to reach his target of 40 winners.
“And he is a very limited horse,” So said. “He is not the most genuine horse at all, but Zac wanted to ride him again, even after he finished last at his last run. Last time he tried to restrain him a bit and he did not fire again, so going into this he knew that he needed to let him roll along and he asked me if he could ride again. I said, ‘welcome’! But we got a bad draw, C+3, gate 11, so I wasn’t confident.
“The owners have been very generous, though, they’ve always shown faith in me and I told them, Class 5 should be no problem but we had to wait for everything to fall into place.”
Purton rode an early double on the card, winning the opener on Rugby Diamond before providing handler David Hall with a much-anticipated victory on Andoyas in the Class 3 Murray Handicap (2200m).
Hall had not found the winner’s circle since 23 November, when Super Turbo won a Class 2 by a short head, and it was the even smaller margin of a nose that provided him with his first victory in more than two months.
Andoyas (123lb) was sent out a 3.5 favourite, but settled well back in the field and then struck trouble in the straight before prevailing in a photo finish over Richard Gibson-trained Happy Contender (125lb), much to the relief of his trainer.
“We’ve had a couple of rusty months but it can happen,” Hall said. “We’ve had plenty of seconds, a lot of placegetters, horses have been held up at crucial times, this and that, but it’s not winning, is it? So to get that win, it was satisfying.”
“Particularly with this horse too!” he laughed. “He’s had four seconds, so he’s another one who needed a win. That should help his confidence a little bit, he was quite unlucky a couple of times last season and he ran some really tough races. He backed it up with a good second the other day, even though he might not have beaten the winner on the night, but he still ran pretty well there so he was entering in a good space.
“You don’t get many options at this 2200m trip so it was good that he actually ticked the box tonight and got the job done, no matter how narrowly!”
Another milestone came for freshman Australian rider Sam Clipperton, who brought up his 20th Hong Kong win on Derek Cruz-trained Good Companion (123lb) in the second section of the Class 4 Club Street Handicap (1200m), the four-year-old bay bringing up his first win at his third start.
“He’s a horse we bought at the Inglis Easter sale in Sydney a couple of years ago,” Cruz said. “He was prepared by my sons in New Zealand and showed a bit of talent, but he hasn’t really grown much. He’s a small-framed horse. But he’s very quick, he’s an easy horse to train and I always thought he was suitable for Hong Kong so I’m glad he’s won quickly.”
Trainer David Ferraris has been in strong recent form which continued with a double for the South African handler, including the night’s feature, the Class 3 Hong Kong Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1650m) with Nitro Express.
Sent off a 3.6 favourite, Nitro Express (124lb) raced midfield on the rail behind a strong early tempo set by Cheerful Boy and travelled strongly into the contest at the top of the straight, eventually overhauling Bullish Smart to score a three-quarter length victory under Neil Callan.
“That’s the secret to him,” Ferraris said. “He’s got to travel and he’s got to travel well. If he’s off the bridle, you’ve just got to ease him back so he’s travelling. If he’s got his ears pricked and he’s travelling, he just thunders up. And that’s what happened tonight. He’s a very good horse.”
Ferraris also won the first section of the Class 4 Club Street Handicap (1200m) with Breeders’ Star (132lb) under Silvestre de Sousa, the jockey himself making it a double later in the night on Tony Cruz-trained I’m A Witness (116lb) in the Class 3 Connaught Handicap (1200m).
Racing returns to Sha Tin on Monday (30 January) for the Chinese New Year Raceday, headlined by the G1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m), the G2 Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m) and the Class 1 Chinese New Year Cup Handicap (1400m). The first race is scheduled for 12:30pm.
Caspar Fownes completes his double with Marvel Hero in the Class 2 Chater Handicap (1650m) at Happy Valley tonight.
The Zac Purton-ridden Andoyas (in silver) edges Happy Contender (in blue) to take the Class 3 Murray Handicap over 2200m.
Trainer David Ferraris continues his strong season, getting his second win of the night with Nitro Express in the Class 3 Hong Kong Club Challenge Cup Handicap, over 1650m.