Fownes cautious about early season prospects
Champion trainer Caspar Fownes is expecting to play his usual prominent role among the 'usual suspects' on opening day at Sha Tin but warned punters about his early season prospects.
When Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen bangs the gong for day one, it is invariably the playground of a handful of trainers who traditionally have their runners well forward on resumption and Fownes is right there among them.
Only once - when he last stepped out as the reigning champion trainer in 2007 - has Fownes (pictured) failed to produce a winner on the first day of the season. With 10 runners today, Fownes is sure to be in play again but he was cautious about how his title defence will start.
'I threw everything at the title race at the finish of last season. It would have been disappointing not to win because the horses have paid for it in the ratings as a result,' he said.
'Until many of them get back down the handicaps, it's going to be hard for them to win again and my yard might come good from January. I have some nice new horses. I'm expecting Fair Trade and Young Elite to join Green Birdie and Jackpot Delight as my feature race chances, and I'm expecting to be competitive in the championship again.
'From where I'm sitting, John Size and Tony Cruz look like the trainers to beat this time.'
Fownes reserved his greatest confidence for his final runner at today's meeting, with Grand Dragon a lightly raced four-year-old expected to take good strides this term with the benefit of a summer's growth.
'Even though he won a couple last season in good style, he did a bit wrong at times and he wasn't quite there physically either as a three-year-old,' Fownes said. 'Grand Dragon is stronger now. I've always had an opinion of him and I think he'll be fairly progressive.'
Championship runner-up John Moore (11 wins) and Danny Shum Chap-shing (10) have been the dominant trainers on opening day in the 57 races contested over the past six years at this meeting.
Moore frequently saddles up multiple winners on day one, with a four-timer four seasons back, and has a solid team engaged today, though Shum has just a handful of runners.
Fownes (6 wins), John Size (5) and Tony Cruz (5) have also been prominent players in recent years and Me Tsui Yu-sak also has a good opening-day record. Like Fownes, he has failed to produce a winner only once in his four seasons, and that was in his first term.