A scintillating dirt trial by Japan-bound Lucky Nine yesterday lightened the mood of trainer Caspar Fownes, who revealed staying star Thumbs Up would miss his major targets for this season - the horse's last - with a suspensory ligament injury.
Jockey Brett Prebble ensured Lucky Nine's fitness was up to scratch after a recent setback, letting the tough five-year-old stride to the line in a 1,200m trial on the all-weather track at Sha Tin. Fownes is confident he has the gelding ready for the Group One Sprinters Stakes a week on Sunday.
"I think the trial will bring him on physically and mentally. I'm confident I have got him where I want him for the race," Fownes said. "I wanted him to have a nice strong trial today because he needed a blow, and he got that, but his recovery was good and he looks outstanding."
Lucky Nine worked through his final 400m in 22.8 seconds - with an impressive final furlong of 11.5 - quelling concerns about the horse's fitness after a barrier trial mishap 12 days ago. The gelding, who flies out this morning, tore off both front plates as he jumped from the gates, damaging his already troublesome hooves, and he will now revert to glue-on shoes at Nakayama.
"He didn't miss much work, but the fact he ripped some of his hoof wall away wasn't good. But everything is under control, he looks a treat and that will bring him on," the trainer said.
Fownes' enthusiasm was dampened somewhat with news that Thumbs Up's left front leg injury was worse than expected.
Thumbs Up won the Jockey Club Cup last season before a gallant second to Dunaden in the Hong Kong Vase, but he will miss both of those races this year and the eight-year-old's career seems to be hanging in the balance.
"Any suspensory problem isn't a good one, especially at his age. This was going to be his last season anyway," Fownes said. "As soon as we spotted it we stopped him. It was surprising because I hadn't done much with him - if you look at his track work, I'd been bringing him along very slowly.
"When I was checking his legs last week there was some thickening and some heat, and originally we thought it was some infection or inflammation, but we found four or five days later it was a suspensory injury.
"We're treating it, and once we get the leg back looking normal we will re-scan it and reassess things," Fownes said.
"It is a partial tear and there is a lot of damage in there, but basically we are going to give him a chance to come back from it. We will try to bring him back for the latter part of the season."