It was all a case of 'watch the birdie' at Happy Valley last night as an ecstatic Caspar Fownes unleashed what he hopes will be the next big thing in the Hong Kong sprint ranks. Three-year-old Green Birdie (Shane Dye) put up a brilliant performance second-up to win the Class One Cornwall Handicap (1,200m) standing the leaders five lengths from the 200m and swamping some high-grade gallopers in the final strides.
'This is a really serious racehorse - this is exciting,' said a breathless Fownes. 'You always hope they'll adapt to the environment quickly enough to win first preparation here and it's always a worry when they're second-up, but I really did feel he would run well tonight.'
Green Birdie raced under the same name in Australia, where a brief career was highlighted by his second to champion sprinting mare Miss Andretti in the Group Two Schillaci Stakes at Caulfield in October.
'I flew down to Melbourne to look at this horse and the first thing that struck me was that he was a bit of a boy - he had two handlers in the parade yard and was dragging them around,' Fownes said.
'I liked him a lot, the owners had a permit and we got him, but I knew the first thing that would have to happen here would be gelding him. A few people questioned me running him so soon after gelding him but I was comfortable with the timing of it and I've had this race mapped out for a while, which is why he came here to trial.'
First time out, Green Birdie caught the eye running fifth to Sacred Kingdom in top-class time up the straight at Sha Tin and Fownes felt sure he would come on for that run.
'Tonight with speed on and fitter, I was hoping for something good but I didn't imagine it might be that good,' he said. 'The horse has speed and I hoped he would be a few horses closer than he was - maybe eighth or ninth but Shane is Shane and he just made sure the horse was relaxed and travelling and look how he's finished off. There were some very good, in-form horses in that and he's gone straight past them like they were standing still.'
Fownes said the three-year-old's goal for this season would be the HSBC Premier Sha Tin Vase (1,200m) at Sha Tin on May 24.
In winning, Green Birdie became the sixth recipient of the Jockey Club's HK$600,000 first-win bonus for private purchase horses, a reward introduced this season.
The win continued the tough battle for the top of the trainers' table going on between Fownes and Paul O'Sullivan, who had pulled one back earlier in the night after a rare Valley win Sydney Express (Olivier Doleuze).
'I had to ask someone to show me where to go when you win one here,' quipped O'Sullivan, who had won only five times this season at the city track prior. 'It's only his second start for me and after the first run I knew I'd made a mistake taking the blinkers off.
'He was very timid last time, so the blinkers went back on and I think Olivier's ride had a lot to do with it - his timing was great. Coming down the outside, Sydney Express was a lot more confident, too.'
Doleuze was celebrating early for his 35th birthday today and increased the tension at the top of the jockeys' table by joining Brett Prebble just four wins behind Douglas Whyte in what is unfolding as a great battle for this season's title.
Training honours went to Dennis Yip Chor-hong, who saddled up Evergreen (Eddy Lai Wai-ming) and Dr Possi (Terry Wong Chi-wai) for a double, while the stewards room found only one rider culpable during the meeting. Alex Lai Hoi-wing produced a nice ride to get Serious Play home for Peter Ho in the Class Five second race from a wide draw, but the stipes later found him to have caused interference along the way and banned him for two days with an additional $20,000 fine.