Fownes so close to title after double
TRAINER Lawrie Fownes roared himself almost hoarse when Innovation hit the front with 70 metres to go in the final event yesterday - but could still face the world with a huge smile when the game galloper finished second to the Patrick Biancone-trained My Home Town (4-1 favourite).
Ironically, Innovation finished second in the last race of last season, but a lot more hinged on the result yesterday at Sha Tin.
A win would have given the former champion trainer of Calcutta a share of the trainers' championship but he still ended the day with a double and his best tally in 12 years' training here.
Crown Counsel (18-1) in the fifth event and Aashiq (14-1) in Race Nine gave Fownes a total of 39 winners, one better than his previous best, in 1986.
''I feel drained but delighted. It was a super finish to the season which is the most competitive that I have been involved in. I could hardly speak after the last I was roaring the horse and Darren [Gauci] home.
''But the main thing was that it was a great race and tremendously exciting,'' said Fownes.
Aashiq simply spreadeagled the field in the Class Three, 1,200-metre ninth event where maximum claimer Richard K. M. So effectively ended the outright title hopes of both John Moore and David Hill.
Moore saddled up last-start winner Jollity (7-2) and Hill had the exciting Lionheart (3-1 favourite) involved in the penultimate race of the season.
But Aashiq, who must be half a furlong better on soft ground, gave nothing else a chance and won by 71/4 lengths. It was a stunning win considering the quality of both Lionheart and Jollity, who finished second and third respectively.
Jollity missed the start but rallied well in conditions he also appreciates and, given a cleaner break, would almost certainly have taken second spot.
Young So had drawn barrier 13 but that was not necessarily against him in the prevailing conditions where most horses were being taken wide. So simply booted Aashiq up to them at the turn and in two or three strides it was all over.
Crown Counsel was repeating a last-start success in the fifth event where topweight Fastabob, from the Moore stable, was solidly backed in from 5-1 to start the 7-2 favourite.
Crown Counsel prevailed by a neck from rank outsider Peace Gallery (80-1) with Lucky Optimists (7-1) battling on for third.
Fastabob, who had been going really well in the run for John Marshall, hit the front about 250 metres from home, but the lack of a run in the past three months told and he faded in a frantic finish to end up fourth.
Gauci did an exceptional job on the winner, getting him over from his extreme outside draw of 14 to be close to the rails and able to finish down the inside and score a gripping victory.
Peace Gallery, also badly drawn, looked a real chance inside the final 50 metres but just could not get the final stride in and strong-finishing Crown Counsel had the edge.
Endeavour (6-1), with Jackie C. K. Tse replacing Declan Murphy, was the early favourite but drifted out as continuous support came for Fastabob. Endeavour was never a factor but Fastabob will remain a threat in the right races next season.
My Home Town, in the final race, broke a seven-week losing streak for Patrick Biancone, once a prime contender for the trainers' championship.
Biancone won with City Raider at the Happy Valley night meeting following the International Races on April 18 and went without a win until 6 pm yesterday.
My Home Town, who had been involved in Group races in France before export, was still a Hongkong maiden going into the Classes One and Two, 1,800-metre event where he jumped the 4-1 favourite with Tony Cruz aboard.
The five-year-old clearly relished the conditions and ran down Innovation in the final 50 metres. The Fownes-trained galloper looked to have taken a two-length winning break but My Home Town powered home.