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��Different�� Dundonnell ready for Mahab Al Shimaal challenge, says Fownes


By Andrew Hawkins in Dubai

A change is as good as a holiday, so the old adage goes. For trainer Caspar Fownes, the saying has become his philosophy about Dundonnell, his charge in the G3 Mahab Al Shimaal (1200m) at Meydan on Saturday night (4 March).

“It’s very interesting, he’s a bit quirky in Hong Kong but he’s come here and his mind has switched on,” Fownes said at Meydan trackwork on Friday morning (3 March). “It’s toughened him up mentally and he’s a different horse. Whatever he does here, I’d be expecting him to go back to Hong Kong and probably pick his game up a little bit, even on turf. I just think this trip has done him the world of good. It’s got him away, it has freshened up his mind and he’s a happy camper, so even though he’s getting on in age, I’d be expecting him to acquit himself competitively at the top end.”

Purchased out of the Roger Charlton yard as a three-year-old having won three of his eight starts, including two black-type events, former Juddmonte galloper Dundonnell has raced competitively at the highest levels in Honog Kong for a number of seasons, first for Richard Gibson and then for Fownes. Now seven, his last victory came in the HKG2 Sprint Cup (1200m) in April 2015. However, arguably his best effort came with a fourth to Peniaphobia in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) that same year.

“He’s got the talent, but he’s a bit quirky,” said Fownes. “And sometimes the track hasn’t suited him or we’ve ridden him wrong or whatever it has been on certain days, but things haven’t really panned out. On this surface, we’re going to try and be a little more aggressive with him, take advantage of the gate. I think now, this trip away might mean that we’re capable of doing that. He’s got the engine there, let’s hope that he can use it.”

Dundonnell tackles the Mahab Al Shimaal, a race won by Hong Kong’s Rich Tapestry in 2014. As with most of the races on Meydan’s Super Saturday card, it is considered the prelude to a feature at the Dubai World Cup meeting on 25 March, with the Mahab Al Shimaal the leading prep for the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen (1200m) over the same course and distance.

The First Defence gelding, who has drawn gate two with Belgian ace Christophe Soumillon in the plate, meets nine rivals, including American G1 winner Wild Dude, last year's Mahab Al Shimaal victor Muarrab, G3 Burj Nahaar (1600m) winner Cool Cowboy and 11-year-old stalwart Reynaldothewizard. Also among entries is Godolphin galloper Comicas, who beat Dundonnell when the pair clashed in a handicap over this course and distance on 11 February, and Japanese colt Dios Corrida, making his first appearance as a three-year-old.

“The big thing is, he has a nice draw against a few decent horses, so we’ll be able to see exactly where we are at in this race,” Fownes said after watching Dundonnell move through a gallop at three-quarter pace. “Let’s hope he gives it a big shake. I don’t know much about the other horses in there, to be honest. I know there is the Japanese up-and-comer and we know they are always dangerous, and obviously there’s Comicas, but we gave him five kilograms (11lb) last start and now we clash at level weights, you would hope we have him covered.

“I’d be expecting a top-three finish from him, and if he does that, you’d walk away pretty happy with that and we can then look at pushing onto the main event.”

Fownes has been a frequent visitor to Dubai since Meydan opened in 2011, with Dundonnell the fifth horse he has brought to the Middle East in six years. G1-winning sprinters Green Birdie and Lucky Nine both tackled the Golden Shaheen when it was run on the Tapeta surface; Green Birdie finished fourth to Singapore’s Rocket Man in 2011, Lucky Nine was third to Krypton Factor a year later.

Lucky Nine returned for the Golden Shaheen, now on dirt in 2015, finishing a disappointing 11th to American sprinter Secret Circle. Last year, Fownes brought over Domineer (eighth) for the Golden Shaheen and Gun Pit (last) for the G1 Dubai World Cup (2000m), with the latter also his first Super Saturday runner when second in the G1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (2000m). But the trainer believes that Dundonnell is different to his previous visitors.

“He’s not exactly like the other horses I’ve brought here in the past,” the handler said. “Green Birdie had won a KrisFlyer in Singapore and was still honest, Lucky Nine came here in good form both times and Domineer and Gun Pit were both dirt specialists, they’d run on the surface a number of times in Hong Kong so we had some idea how they’d go here. This guy only had the one opportunity back in January and he was a bit unlucky in that race for sure.

“But I do like bringing the horses here, definitely. You know how necessary it is for us humans to get away from Hong Kong every now and then, for animals it is exactly the same. I like to freshen them up, to give them something different, and they seem to thrive. There’s the professional element too, it is a good opportunity for the owners to win some stake money in some prestigious races. So it fits in well with our schedule and where I have a horse that is suitable, I will try to take them away. Hopefully, it works out for Dundonnell.”

The Mahab Al Shimaal is scheduled for 8:35pm Hong Kong time and will be the first of six races to be simulcast for betting into Hong Kong.

Fownes’ former assistant Chris So was also trackside on Friday morning, watching his charge Fabulous One complete his preparations for Saturday night’s Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint (1200m) with an easy canter.

“I’m very happy,” So said. “This is my first time seeing him stretch out here in a couple of weeks, at least in person, and he looks better than I saw on the videos. I’m hopeful he can run a bold race, he’s as well as we can have him I think.”

So said that Fabulous One will wear a blindfold into the gates after the Elusive City gelding played up at the stalls before finishing a flat ninth in the same Comicas race on 11 February.

“It’s what he usually does in Hong Kong, but we didn’t apply for it at his first start,” So said. “But we will learn from our mistakes and hopefully that helps him to settle a little bit more.

Fabulous One has drawn gate five in a field of 16 with Irishman Oisin Murphy taking the ride once again. The Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint (1200m), the main lead-up for the G1 Al Quoz Sprint (1200m), will jump at 10:20pm Hong Kong and is the fourth of six races available for betting.

Dundonnell (in purple) finishes a gallant fourth behind Peniaphobia in the 2015 edition of the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint.
Photo 1:
Dundonnell (in purple) finishes a gallant fourth behind Peniaphobia in the 2015 edition of the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint.



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