Fownes has high hopes for Derby
Trainer Caspar Fownes will take the brilliant record of new star stallion High Chaparral with him into today's HK$14 million Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby and has declared himself 'even more confident' of success than with last year's hero, Super Satin.
Defending champion Fownes is three-handed in the race, with Let Me Handle It, Mark Up and Victor Delight, but it is Let Me Handle It, from the sensational first southern hemisphere season of High Chaparral, who carries the weight of expectation.
High Chaparral stood his first Australasian season at Windsor Park Stud in New Zealand and that crop of horses included not only the dual Cox Plate winning champion So You Think, but also the Victoria and Australian Derby winners and a remarkable first three finishers in the latter race.
Now that crop is aged four and Let Me Handle It stands on the verge of being yet another big star to emerge from it.
'I did think Super Satin would be hard to beat but, if anything, I'm even more confident with this guy,' Fownes said yesterday, and long-range planning is the underpinning factor to the trainer's enthusiasm.
'Last year, Super Satin was targeted for the Derby from many months before and the plan for the Derby has been in place virtually from the time Let Me Handle It came into the stable last season. When he was still in Class Four, I said to the owner that this was a serious Derby horse and that everything we did would be carefully planned step by step along the path to this race.'
With Lucky Nine also in the stable and targeted at the Classic Mile, Fownes was happy to miss that race with Let Me Handle It, knowing he would come into his own in the longer races.
'Lucky Nine would always have been too brilliant for him at 1,600m but this is a horse I'll be looking towards the Queen Mother's Cup and Champions And Chater with later in the season over 2,400m,' Fownes said.
'One thing I am not worried about is the Derby distance, even though it's his first attempt. We know he has an awesome turn of foot but he switches off like a top stayer.
'He had nothing go right in the Classic Cup the other day but still produced a big-finishing sectional. All I want is that he gets a fair go in the Derby and he'll run a cracker.'
Ambitious Dragon is the likely public favourite - even though no Derby winner on record has won from gate 14 and no Classic Cup winner has ever taken the Derby as well - but rival trainer John Moore believes the prospect of rain has improved his chances of knocking off the favourite and winning a fourth Derby.
'I think Xtension is the one to beat from his good draw - that 2,000m start is very difficult from a bad gate and I can see horses having to drop out last or being stuck four, even five or six wide going out of the straight. If you get stuck out there, you're there for a long way,' Moore said.
'And some cut in the ground is a real bonus for these northern hemisphere horses. I've walked the track and there isn't as much grass as there was on International day. There is still good cover but with a bit of watering from Mother Nature, it's going to suit the European horses.'