Fortune smiles on Lucky Nine in a thriller
Fortune swung the way of the 'unlucky' Lucky Nine as the gutsy galloper re-ignited the international aspirations of trainer Caspar Fownes with a thrilling win in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint.
Despite a less than ideal run throughout, Lucky Nine prevailed in a gripping, three-way battle over the final furlong with Entrapment and Joy And Fun, who dead-heated for second.
It was the four-year-old's first domestic run after a disastrous and decidedly unlucky early-season trip to Japan. A short-head second in the Centaur Stakes was followed by the worst interference imaginable as he turned for home in the Sprinters Stakes in Tokyo.
But Fownes believes the torrid tour has actually 'made' Lucky Nine as a horse and he will now be aimed at more overseas targets.
'In Japan, we were so close first-up and then nearly got put over the rail,' he said. 'It was tough, but that trip really has made him as a horse. He travelled really well with Green Birdie, he was a good companion for him, it taught him how to toughen up a bit.
'When he came back from Japan he was struggling there for a while - but we targeted this race and we managed to turn him around in time.'
Fownes, whose only previous International-Day winner was with The Duke in the 2006 Mile, said Lucky Nine's versatility - he has won from 1,200m up to a mile - make him an attractive prospect for travelling.
'We could go somewhere for two or three races and have options,' he said.
Brett Prebble captured his third Sprint after victories aboard Absolute Champion (2006) and Sacred Kingdom (2009).
Although Prebble got caught further back than he wanted from gate six after an awkward jump and was shuffled about in the run, once he put the horse in a dogfight the Australian was confident.
'It wasn't the easiest run, but that's the type of horse he is, he is so courageous and just tries his heart out,' Prebble said. 'I've got a real soft-spot for him, he's one of my favourite horses I've ridden and he warrants another overseas trip if that fits with his programme.'
The vision of the first three horses locked in a fierce battle over the final stages is one that will live long in fan's minds.
'I got to them at the 200m and I hadn't pushed him yet,' recalled Prebble. 'I knew I'd had a tough trip and had to save everything I had. When I did press him, he gave me a half-neck and kept the momentum to the line.'
Both Douglas Whyte on Entrapment and Brett Doyle on Joy And Fun gave their mounts perfect rides.
Whyte positioned Entrapment ideally throughout, firstly getting in front of favourite Little Bridge - who finished a flat fourth - and then pinching ground along the rails.
He then squeezed into another inside run but Entrapment again lacked the killer punch in the finish.
'If I rode the race five times over I'd ride the same race,' Whyte said. 'A better horse beat me on the day, I dropped the winner at the top of the straight and he's come back and got me. He ran his heart out.'
Trainer Derek Cruz said he would now head back to Dubai with the resilient eight-year-old Joy And Fun for a return tilt at the Al Quoz Sprint (1,000m), which he won in 2010.