Hong Kong trainer Caspar Fownes was left frustrated over the Japanese rules of racing after a drama-laden Sprinters Stakes in Tokyo yesterday that saw his runner Lucky Nine bruised and beaten and stewards took no action.
Singapore's star galloper Rocket Man was beaten out of a place for the first time in his 22-race career, finishing fourth as odds-on favourite and looking to have little excuse, but there was plenty of drama, both pre-race and post-race.
The start was held up for almost 20 minutes when a local runner, B B Guldan, broke through the front of the gates and then ran 2 1/2 laps of the Nakayama track before he tired and was caught.
But the post-race drama surrounded fifth-placed Lucky Nine and continued an appalling run of luck for Fownes in Japan.
After using gate one to have Lucky Nine positioned directly behind the leader on the rails, Pas De Trois, in the run to the home turn, Brett Prebble went to take a run inside that horse when he rolled away from the rail after straightening up.
Lucky Nine looked to have established himself in a clear run when Pas De Trois moved back into the fence and cut Lucky Nine out before the Japanese sprinter went on to finish second to the easy winner, Curren Chan.
While that incident may have cost Lucky Nine the one length between fifth and second placing - and HK$3.8 million in prizemoney - the stewards told Fownes that they did not believe the run belonged to Lucky Nine. 'It's so frustrating. The stewards said to me that it all happened in a fraction of a second and they felt they could not penalise the second horse by demoting him,' Fownes said.
'I told them I understood that they have their rules and we may have different ones in Hong Kong but, if they applied their own rule consistently, I thought the other horse had to be demoted.'
That result was in complete contrast to the Centaur Stakes last month, when the Fownes-trained Green Birdie finished fourth, nine lengths in front of 16-placed Bering Boy, but was relegated to second last behind him for having interfered with Bering Boy on the home turn.
The demotion at Hanshin had cost Green Birdie's connections around HK$874,000 and Fownes must have felt certain the same rule would retrieve some of the stakes lost yesterday through interference.
Demotion of Pas De Trois to a position behind Lucky Nine would have raised the Hong Kong sprinter to fourth, with the difference in prizemoney being HK$450,000.
'I suppose the only positive thing to take out of this trip to Japan with Lucky Nine is that he has shown we can sprint him at this level if we decide to - he has run very well twice now,' said Fownes, whose other runner, Green Birdie, had a difficult trip from the outside barrier before finishing eighth and emerged with an injury.
'He's done really well considering the run he had and he hung in the straight because he lost a shoe and has torn off half the wall of his hoof.'
Twelve months ago, Green Birdie also contested the Centaur Stakes and Sprinters Stakes, badly held up for clear running both times before finishing close.
Rocket Man was beaten a nose and a half length for second after Felix Coetzee gave him a perfect trip one out, one back trailing the leaders and he appeared to have ample opportunity to finish closer than he did.