Birdie right on target for Sprinters Stakes
Hong Kong's Green Birdie grabbed the glory if not the thick end of the prize money in Japan yesterday with an unlucky second in the HK$11.2 million Group Two Centaur Stakes (1,200m) at Hanshin.
Gate one turned out to be no friend for the Caspar Fownes-trained sprinter, who emerged late between horses for jockey Mark du Plessis to run three-year-old Dasher Go Go to a neck, after standing him at least four lengths at the 200m and conceding him nine pounds in weight.
'I'm as happy as I can be without winning - I was proud of him today,' said Fownes after the heartbreaking defeat.
With K T Love beginning like a bullet, the race looked likely to be run at a hot pace but, with nothing to take him on the leader, slowed after 200m and the tempo changed altogether.
'I wanted him ridden quietly and Mark said they jumped out fast and he took the sort of position we expected, but then the leaders all steadied, he got shuffled back and was a place further behind them than our plan,' Fownes said.
'Then he got clear a little bit later than would have been ideal. The race just didn't break for us and, if it had, I'm sure he would have won.'
While Green Birdie was looking for a way off the rail, Dasher Go Go crucially had raced three wide but with cover and was in a position to make his move whenever jockey Yuga Kawada wished.
The youngest horse in the field, Dasher Go Go went for home on straightening, opening up a good lead, and though rapidly coming back to Green Birdie on the line, the prize was gone.
Six-year-old mare Melissa managed third, three-quarter-of-a-length further astern.
'I would have loved to win this but the big one is the Sprinters Stakes next month and Green Birdie did everything I wanted to see from him today,' Fownes said. 'He had 130 pounds and was giving away weight but was still able to produce the big finishing sectionals and hit the line. We'll see how he comes through the race, but I have to say I'm pretty happy with that for his first run since the win in Singapore.'
Fownes said Green Birdie handled the warm conditions on the day, another good sign for his extended stay in Japan.
'Conditions were quite stifling there today,' he said. 'But he seemed to cope with it very well, and as long as he eats up and does well between now and October 3, we will be going into it very happy.'
It was a second Centaur win for the jockey Kawada, who took out what is now the fifth Global Sprint Challenge leg three years ago on Sans Adieu, while it was the biggest career victory for Dasher Go Go's trainer Takayuki Yasuda in his 15 years with a licence.
There was no indication after the race if Dasher Go Go or the other local sprinters who finished close would head on to the Group One Sprinters Stakes, but waiting for Green Birdie will be compatriot Ultra Fantasy and the horse he downed to win in Singapore, Rocket Man.
The future of Group One-winning local Kinshasa No Kiseki - the clear favourite for the Centaur until his shock scratching on Saturday - is also up in the air.
Kinshasa No Kiseki was expected to push on to the Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama as perhaps Japan's leading chance, but his recovery from a colic attack that surfaced during transport from his training centre to the Hanshin course will now determine his path.