Fownes comes up smiling after stable's bleak summer
Caspar Fownes has endured a tough summer with injuries to two of his stable stars, but the horizon looks a lot brighter after Baazigar gave the handler his mandatory first-day winner.
Opening day has always been special to Fownes. In fact, Champion Boy gave him his first winner with his first-ever runner on this programme five years ago and he rarely misses a day-one winner.
Baazigar looked for most of the race like he was running for second or third money, with those who supported him in to HK$36.50 favourite having jockey Felix Coetzee to thank for getting a collect.
Fownes later explained that the stable had endured some character-testing days during the summer, with Derby runner-up Jackpot Delight tweaking a tendon on his right foreleg and Derby Trial hero Green Birdie sustaining a hairline fracture of the sesamoid bone in his right hind leg.
'Fortunately, both of them are now back in business, but they're not the sort of things you want happening to any horses, let alone your big guns,' Fownes said.
'The main thing today is that we've started the season on a positive note and I liked the way he got to the line for Felix. It looked a bit scary there for much of the race but he got there in the end.'
Coetzee, who combined with Fownes to win a race on opening day two years ago on Star Prodigy, was buried back in the ruck on Baazigar and received an unpleasant surprise when the true state of the race was revealed to him at the 600m.
Terry Wong Chi-wai, on well-supported leader Connoisseur's Love, had stolen a gap on his rivals - allowing the front-runner to capitalise on his weight advantage with 114 pounds.
'From where I was, I never noticed the kid sneaking away in front,' Coetzee said. 'I didn't realise he'd made such a break and when I saw the margin he had pulled on us I thought 'goodness, we've got a bit of work to do here'.
'We were still five lengths behind Connoisseur's Love at the 200 metres and, although we were making up ground, I doubted we'd get there. But my fellow kept going and was very strong in the final 50 metres, where the leader probably just came to the end of it.'
Baazigar, now a five-year-old, has been a slow-maturing galloper. It has taken until now to fill out his lanky frame.
'Although he can stay further than today's distance [1,600m], he has shown us before that he can give us a good run while fresh,' Fownes said. 'I was very happy with him going into today's race because he has put on around 20 pounds during the break'
Fownes said his goal was another solid season, but his respect for the reigning premier trainer, John Size, stops him predicting a second premiership for the yard.
'We're aiming for another top year, to be in the top couple of stables,' he said.