This one's for you, dad – Caspar Fownes grabs trophy in trainers' thriller
Battle with John Size goes right down to the wire in fitting finale to great season, which also sees Purton break through for first jockeys' title
It wasn't the way he wanted it but it was what he wanted to win. A drained, emotionally-charged Caspar Fownes yesterday managed a hoot and a jig and claimed a trainers' championship that meant everything to him.
Every championship win is different. Seven years ago, Fownes felt the sheer elation of going to the final meeting of the season seven knowing it was over and he would lift the trophy as champion for the first time. And he has felt the adrenaline rush of coming from nowhere, against all the odds, to snatch it on the last day in 2009.
But this was now and this was for his ailing father, Lawrie, who won championships in India but trained successfully for two decades at Sha Tin without winning one, and now is battling cancer.
When Fownes senior reached retirement in 2003, he expected that Caspar, who had worked with him and his team for 18 years, would automatically take over his yard and was aghast when it didn't happen that way. Caspar was initially passed over.
"I still remember going to the club and saying what a travesty it would be for Caspar, who had so much skill and energy and passion for the game, to miss out," said a proud Lawrie Fownes yesterday, who wrote an open letter to the media at the time, appealing on his son's behalf.
"When you look at him now, with three championships and everything he's done as a trainer, what a terrible decision that would have been."
Fownes didn't stop fighting for his son and when another trainer withdrew, Caspar was licensed and hasn't looked back. "I love my dad - he taught me everything.
"I've followed him around since I was a young fella and it's very special to have him here today to enjoy this," said Caspar, who has battled some health concerns himself in recent months and yesterday would have done little that was positive for his blood pressure.
He began the day one win behind John Size, and with two fewer seconds, which would become an issue if they finished level on wins, and did ultimately decide the issue.
Fownes appeared to have the ascendancy after three wins early and expected wins still ahead, but they were beaten and their seconds put him level with Size on that count.
Size fought back to one behind with hot favourite Luger but it was Gun Pit's second in the second-last race that made the difference.
"I've never been so happy to run second," said jockey Zac Purton, whose own history-making title was safely put to bed earlier in the week, and whose other main contribution to the day was photo-bombing Fownes in the post-race celebrations.
"Cassie boy!" Purton screamed as one more interviewer quizzed Fownes on how the day unfolded. Ready-witted Fownes responded deadpan, asking him whether he thought he was "the champion jockey or something".
Fownes said it was a shame there were tiebreak rules at all. "I wanted to come here and do something special, for the fans and of course for my dad. And John did something special too," he said.
"It's not really fair to have the same number of wins and I'm crowned champion. Anyway, even if I'd walked away second, dad told me this morning I'd overachieved and he was proud of me, and that was more than enough for me."
For the Jockey Club, the tension and theatre of another dramatic final meeting on the racetrack - the third time in four years that the trainers' championship has been decided on the last day - was underscored by a massive result through the windows.
In 1997, the club's record last-day turnover reached HK$2.5 billion thanks to a whopping Triple Trio pool of HK$675 million but yesterday's HK$1.778 million was the next best and without any exotic help, pushing the club to HK$101.8 billion for the season.
"This has been the greatest season in Hong Kong racing and today one of the most exciting days," said chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges.
"I feel a little sorry for John Size too but full credit to Caspar. The final race was better than we could have hoped for and showed everything that Hong Kong racing is about - excitement to the last minute."