Winning is in their blood

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 December, 2007, 12:00am

John Moore and Caspar Fownes will be frontline players at this year's Cathay Pacific International Races, and they have much more in common than one might imagine.

Firstly, they have both risen to the top echelon in Hong Kong racing, with Fownes having been crowned champion trainer for the 2006-07 season and Moore having achieved that distinction five times, the latest in 1995.

They have also each won a big race at the 'turf world championships', Moore with Motivation in the 1993 Hong Kong Cup and Fownes last year with stable stalwart The Duke in the Hong Kong Mile.

But even more significant is the fact that they are both sons of former leading Hong Kong trainers, and the closeness of the family ties are always in evidence, particularly with Fownes, as his father Lawrie is still a regular race-goer and one who receives immense satisfaction in his son's success.

Lawrie trained in Hong Kong for 20 years and bowed out, admittedly not on his own terms, in 2003 when he was forced to take compulsory retirement by the Jockey Club at the age of 65. He left with no regrets, but just one wish unfulfilled - that he hadn't won a Hong Kong premiership to add to the five he'd landed as the premier handler in India.

'It would have been nice to have won the trainers' championship instead of being just one win away [behind dead-heaters John Moore and David Hill in 1992-93],' he said at the time. 'Now, that's something Caspar can aim at, and do the one thing I just failed to do.'

At the end of Caspar's fourth season at the helm, at Sha Tin on July 2, Fownes senior was there watching proudly over his son, and you gained a clear feeling from him of life's cup having become brimful of the satisfaction most men dream about but never achieve.

It was a different situation entirely when Moore won his maiden premiership in 1986. Moore, then 36, had taken over his father's stables 12 months earlier and the pressure of expectation was enormous.

Even today, Moore takes very little credit for training 48 winners in his first season and taking the premiership as a rookie. He generously deflects all the credit to his father, George Moore, to whom he was assistant trainer as one of the most famous Australian horseman of all time racked up 11 Hong Kong training premierships to add to the 10 he'd won as the best jockey in Sydney - some say the best ever.

'I took over a full stable when my father retired and it was the premier yard in Hong Kong,' Moore said matter-of-factly.

'If I hadn't won a premiership straight away, I'd have been a failure.'

The Moores don't know too much about failure. Jockeys who rode against George Moore almost universally say he was the best they rode against. He went to England and was successful there too, winning the two signature races of Europe - the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (1959) on Saint Crespin and the 1967 English Derby (Royal Palace).

At home, his partnership with trainer Tommy Smith in Sydney was just about unbeatable. Stories of the Smith and Moore days are a large part of the folklore of Australian racing. It was a famously fiery relationship, with two such gifted professionals and strong personalities often failing to see eye to eye. But their success endures, with both now being members of the Australian Racing Hall of Fame.

John Moore was riding as an amateur in Hong Kong when the decision was taken, in 1972, to make racing professional in the British colony. He and his brother Gary convinced their father of the potential of Hong Kong racing and that he should apply to the Jockey Club to take a licence to train, having retired from race riding after Classic Mission won the Victoria Derby in 1971.

George Moore became the dominant trainer in Hong Kong and in 1982 set the record number of wins for a single season, which stood until Tony Cruz's all-conquering term in 2004-05 (when he trained 91 winners and took the premiership by 41 wins from John Size).

John Moore's brother Gary, two years his junior, was stable jockey for much of that time, winning seven premierships as well as many Group Ones in Europe, emulating his father with an Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Gold River in 1981.

Gary now trains in Macau, where he has been champion trainer twice, and he and John have forged a close association over the past few years - they are probably closer now than they've ever been.

'Of course, I rode for John when he first started training,' Gary explained. 'We have always been quite close, but we're a lot closer now.

'He's just two years older than me, so we really did grow up together. We went to the same school and learned to ride at the same time, up on the farm in Australia [Yarraman Park Stud, in Scone, New South Wales].

'John is a wonderful horseman and has always been a perfectionist. I guess we've both been very successful in the racing world, and of course we learned everything and owe everything to our father.'

John Moore is back as a major player at this year's Cathay Pacific International Races with Viva Pataca, who will start favourite in the HK$20million Hong Kong Cup. He will be ridden by champion Irish horseman Mick Kinane, who has already lifted three Group Ones on this outstanding British-bred racer.

Viva Pataca is owned by one of the richest and most powerful men in this part of the world, Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun. The 85-year-old commissioned Moore to buy him a Derby horse in the summer of 2005 and Moore did his job, returning from England with a highly-promising horse called Comic Strip, renamed Viva Pataca when he was registered with the Hong Kong Jockey Club (pataca, the Portuguese word for peso, is the unit of currency in Macau).

Viva Pataca did win the Derby in March, 2006, courtesy of a swashbuckling ride from Christophe Soumillon. The gelding was one of many victims of a virus that went through the Moore yard in the autumn of the following season and did not strike form until February, ultimately winning the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup and a second Champions & Chater Cup.

Fownes has The Duke back again, for an incredible fifth try at the HK$16million Hong Kong Mile. He won the race last year, handled by Olivier Doleuze in what will always be one of the proudest moments for all members of the Fownes clan.

This year, The Duke is probably not as on form, and age waits for no man - or horse. It will be the Danehill gelding's final start before he heads to the green pastures of retirement.

There is another generation of Fownes and Moores being groomed behind the scenes. John Moore has a 25-year-old son named in honour of his grandfather. George Moore Jnr has a proud heritage and is now working alongside his father each day at the racecourse, with the view to one day continuing the family training tradition.

Fownes has two young sons, Brian and Ronan, but the days for their decisions on a career path are still a long way off. But with a champion trainer dad, and both grandfathers also members of the profession, the 'pedigree pointer' might be too powerful for either to ignore.