Lucky Nine poised for double celebration
Lucky Nine might be Horse of the Year on what he has done already this season, but the gelding can put the title beyond all doubt by winning today's HK$9.8 million Yasuda Kinen in Tokyo - and trainer Caspar Fownes insists his horse can get even better.
Wins in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint on International Day and the Queen's Silver Jubilee in March have the five-year-old poised to take the top honour, and a win today at Fuchu would cap a remarkable season which has included three trips to foreign lands. 'He certainly deserves his crack at the award,' Fownes said. 'It's a hard one to pick, but he has been consistent throughout the year, and that's what you've got to look at. He went close earlier in the season and if he had won one of those, then it would have been two international Group Ones and beyond doubt.'
The trainer was referring to a pair of desperately unlucky early-season runs in Japan, the first a narrow second after weaving through traffic in the Centaur Stakes and then being poleaxed when looming ominously to challenge in the Sprinters Stakes.
Those races were in September and October, and the horse has travelled to Dubai since, racing from 1,000m up to 1,600m.
Fownes has been hampered by his horse's troublesome feet and internal issues, but he says the arduous travel schedule may have been the making of his stable star.
'He is just starting to be a horse really. He has achieved a few good things already but he is a chance to go up a notch in the next season,' Fownes said. 'Ages six and seven are their best years in Hong Kong. They get tougher and he has only had a handful of starts really.
'Everything we put in front of him, he has copped it really well. If anything, he has actually got stronger through the campaign and toughened-up - which is going to be exciting for next season. He is only going to get better.'
Testament to Lucky Nine's toughness is the fact he put on condition after travelling to Japan this time. Fownes admitted the gelding had even got away on him a touch, at a time when the focus would usually be holding the horse together at the end of a long campaign. Lucky Nine is favourite for Horse of the Year almost by default, as main rival Ambitious Dragon has missed numerous opportunities to reclaim the mantle. The last horse to receive the prestigious accolade after just two victories in a season was Vengeance Of Rain in 2006-07, and before that Bullish Luck, who clinched the crown with a win in the 2006 Yasuda Kinen after taking the Champions Mile. Lucky Nine's jockey, Brett Prebble, rode Bullish Luck in both of those season-ending wins and said the two horse's are polar opposites, at least in terms of personality.
While Bullish Luck 'was a bit mad ... he would try to run over the top of you', Lucky Nine seems a sensitive soul, who Prebble said he has a soft spot for and hates hitting with the whip because he is so honest.
'He is a bit soft and likes to be nurtured. He is a real character and a bit goofy. He looks at everything, just gawking,' Prebble said. 'He has got his own personality and I haven't ridden many like him. When he has got one to run down, he gets going and he puts his ears hard back and tries so hard.'