Fownes camp in good spirits as Green Birdie looks the part in Japan
Patrick Allen in Tokyo
An ever-darkening Tokyo sky and a faultless preparation have put Green Birdie in the box-seat to claim the Group One Sprinters Stakes (1,200m) at Nakayama racecourse in Japan on Sunday.
Green Birdie capped an ideal preparation for his tilt at the HK$8.75 million first prize and travelling foreman Dale Bussey is brimming with confidence over the condition of the Caspar Fownes-trained gelding.
The seven-year-old Green Birdie and the Ricky Yiu Poon-fai-trained Ultra Fantasy are representing Hong Kong in the sixth leg of the Global Sprint Challenge, with the latter to do his final fast work this morning on the course proper at Nakayama.
Fownes flew to Japan to oversee Green Birdie's final gallop - an 800m hit-out in 56.2 seconds on Wednesday morning - before rushing back to prepare his quality line-up for today's big Sha Tin meeting.
Bussey, the travelling foreman and track rider who also accompanied Green Birdie to Singapore for his thrilling KrisFlyer Sprint win in May, gave his contender a big thumbs-up yesterday.
'We are very happy with him, his fitness is spot on, he has settled into his stable here at Nakayama perfectly and he has just been lapping up the individual attention,' Bussey said. 'I'd say he is in similar shape now as to when he won in Singapore, the only difference being that he has eaten better here and has had an ideal lead-up race. I'm more confident now than before the race in Singapore.'
The Tokyo weather forecast is predicting showers through until Sunday's race, and a soft track will only help Green Birdie, who humbled Singapore's sprint sensation Rocket Man under similar conditions in the KrisFlyer Sprint.
'He handles it wet or dry, but obviously if a soft track rules out a few other competitors then all the better for him,' Bussey said.
More than HK$18.5 million in prize money is up for grabs in the feature Japanese sprint, and if history is anything to go by, then Fownes has trodden the right path with the gelding - who can emulate Australian world-beater Takeover Target with a win on Sunday.
At seven years old, Takeover Target was the last international horse to win the Sprinters Stakes in 2006, after also placing second in the Centaur Stakes at his previous start.
Bussey has previously travelled the world with Cape Of Good Hope - winner of the Global Sprint Challenge in 2005 - under trainer David Oughton, but will be hoping for a better result this time after Green Birdie failed in the Sprinters Stakes leg and finished 11th.