Caspar Fownes is determined to reclaim his “King of the Valley” tag this season and a couple of Class Five hopes lead the way as the popular trainer sends a strong team to the city track on Wednesday night.
Manhattan Striker backs up from a solid third on Sunday at Sha Tin and steps up to what seems a more suitable trip and Formula Galore will be out to fulfil some of the potential many saw in the sprinter last term when the four-year-old runs first-up over 1,200m after an early season setback.
The pair share many similarities, arriving as unraced prospects out of Australia that then failed to fire early, struggling through three-year-old campaigns to eventually find themselves in Class Five.
Neither is going to end up in the higher grades – but Fownes does have a knack of making do with these limited but workman-like types, and it is reasonable to expect both Manhattan Striker and Formula Galore will win their way back into Class Four and maybe even do something when they get there.
Fownes has always prided himself on being the premier trainer at Happy Valley, but last term it was Danny Shum Chap-shing who used the smaller circuit as a launch pad to a great season and trained the most winners there – 36 of the leading local trainer’s 54 triumphs in 2015-16 were at the track.
Fownes, by his lofty standards, struggled a little last season – a two-time champion trainer, his 40 wins were only good enough for seventh overall in the championship and he had just 23 winners at a strike rate of 11 per cent at Happy Valley.
The season is less than a month old and even though there have been just two meetings at Happy Valley so far, it seems Fownes is set for a bigger return this term; he has sent 11 runners around for three wins and seven placings.
Manhattan Striker should be another to run very close – the quick back-up, second-up, could be considered a positive or a negative really, but what looks a definite plus is a step up to 1,650m for a long-striding horse that has been finding the line strongly at his last two starts over 1,200m.
There was also enough in Class Four efforts over 1,400m at Sha Tin to say that the 1,650m at the Valley – hardly the greatest stamina test in the world with its sharp turns - shouldn’t be a problem and the fast-finishing third over 1,200m at the track late last season hints that the surface might be more to his liking as well.
Admittedly there are some factors working against Manhattan Striker, namely gate nine on the “C + 3” course and what looks a lack of obvious speed in the contest.
Olivier Doleuze is likely to be either back of the pack or at best midfield, but there are enough horses engaged that can go forward to mean that it won’t be a walk.
It is much more disappointing to find Formula Galore (Zac Purton) in cellar grade, as the gelding had shown enough in trials before his first race start to make it into many a good judge’s horses to follow lists for last season.
A zero from nine record so far probably indicates the son of Not A Single Doubt won’t be climbing to any great heights, but a third over 1,200m at Happy Valley at his first time in Class Five is enough to say that he won’t stay in the bottom grade too long either.
Like Manhattan Striker, and a few more of Fownes runners, Formula Galore’s biggest negative is a wide draw – gate 12 leaving Purton with a real headache of what to do with a horse that has shown enough speed to sit close but whose best efforts have come from midfield or worse.
Two of Fownes’ runners not burdened with a bad barriers, and both with winning chances are last start winners Speedy Wally (Joao Moreira) and Peace Combination (Sam Clipperton).
Speedy Wally has drawn one as the six-year-old steps into an average Class Four and Peace Combination comes back to Happy Valley after a couple of runs up the Sha Tin straight.