Fownes quietly confident despite fielding long-shots
Deep into a rookie season which is already outrunning all reasonable expectations, Caspar Fownes' presence as trainer of two runners in the Derby this weekend is not being questioned. But there are those who might question the participation of his runners, the (so-far) sprint-inclined Perfect Partner and The Duke.
'You know the Derby is a one-off situation,' Fownes said. 'It's a once-in-a-lifetime for owners and if they want to run, then why not? After all, neither horse has been past a mile in his life but neither has been disgraced at a mile either.
'There's nothing to say they can't get the 2,000 metres if they've never tried it. And Derbys are like all races - you get the right trip, someone else has no luck, you never know what can happen.'
Fownes has already confounded popular wisdom by training a remarkable five winners on a card and there were just as many who thought he was shooting for the moon with Perfect Partner last time out. Coming off a smart Class Two win, the gelding was thrown into the Classic Mile and raced above his form, finishing third to Derby favourites Tiber and Lucky Owners, and closing the race off as strongly as any.
'That was a great run and I was quite excited about the Derby but, unfortunately, the horse returned with a split hoof and missed a bit of work after that,' Fownes said.
'At first, I didn't think we'd have him racing again for a couple of months, but I've got to say that the farrier, Luke Thompson, has just done a sensational job - not only is the horse able to take his place in the Derby, I'm happy with the way he's going into it. He isn't just making up the numbers. We're bringing Patrick Payne in to ride him and I think he'll run a nice race, even though it's one of the strongest Derbys I've ever seen here.'
Fownes' father, Lawrie, retired last season with five Derbys to his credit - four in India and the 1994 Hong Kong version with Super Fit - so to lead in a classic winner in his first six months as a trainer would be just one more thrill for Fownes Jnr in a season that has been bursting with them.
'I'm thrilled with how the season has gone. Basically, I took over dad's team and there were some old horses there that I've been lucky enough to win with, but a number of them are now retiring. During the summer, I'll hopefully find some nice young horses to take their place and be even stronger next season,' Fownes said.
If Perfect Partner's presence in the Derby has been on the borderline of acceptable to outsiders, durable International Sale griffin The Duke has been the one to really raise eyebrows.
'He was a long way back in the 1,600-metre race the other day and over-raced, but he did find the line quite nicely despite that,' Fownes says. 'I don't think he really wants to be that far back. I'd like to see him draw a good gate, race handy off the lead and if he can drop his head, you never know.
'We've done a lot of work with him in the afternoons to settle him down and it's working.'