An uncharacteristically slow month for the “King of the Valley” ended with a flourish when Caspar Fownes led in a treble at his favourite playground on Wednesday night.
Fownes went back-to-back-to-back with Premium Champion (Joao Moreira), Haymaker (Vincent Ho Chak-yiu) and Cheerfuljet (Zac Purton) in successive races to break a month’s drought which had been punctuated only by dirt winner Double Point.
“It’s just Hong Kong, isn’t it?” said Fownes. “You know there are going to be parts of the season where things are a bit slow, there’s not a lot you can do about it. I’ve had a lot of nasty draws during that month, if you look over the statistics, and in a tight handicap environment like this, you don’t need much against you to get beaten.
“You have to take the good with the bad and Haymaker, for instance, he has been unlucky not to win one. I mean, that’s Haymaker, his style is to get back and run on so he doesn’t help himself much but he has been racing well without luck and tonight he got the luck.”
Cheerfuljet was the most impressive of the three winners, the lightly raced four-year-old finding a race to suit him at the fifth time of asking when Peace On Earth appeared to bolt on apprentice Matthew Poon Ming-fai and set-up a big lead with Cheerfuljet taking the field up to him.
“He’s always shown us something. His first run in a race was good when he was a bit underdone and he’s been looking for a race to work out for him since,” Fownes said.
“He has needed experience and those handful of runs helped and I think the way the race worked out tonight helped too. He had something to follow and chase down and did it nicely. He has a little bit of upside but he is quirky – you wouldn’t want to draw wide with him, he’s got a very sensitive mouth so he needs things to go his way.”
Moreira gave Premium Champion a great ride to arrive in the nick of time in race three and Fownes pointed to the stayer as the classic example of ups and downs in Hong Kong racing.
“He was struggling and was going to be retired, it looked all over, then he managed to win one and we kept him going and now he’s won three of his last five,” Fownes said.
“He got a great ride tonight from Joao but that’s how things can turn here.”
Also back in the winner’s list was Olivier Doleuze, the popular French jockey teaming with the John Size-trained Perpetual Joyance coming back down to Class Three to win the sixth race at a surprisingly good 14-1.
“I don’t think the punters could see past the jockey,” said Size, after Doleuze won just his second race for the season.
“The horse has been running well in Class Two from wide gates, but the draws just haven’t allowed him to get into the race. Tonight he got the class drop but he also got a draw. He’s been fit and healthy all the way through, I’ve been happy with him, but he needed everything to fall into place and it did.”
And the Tony Cruz-trained California Fortune (Matthew Chadwick) racked up maximum points in the Happy Valley Million Challenge in his first appearance at the track and it seems he’ll get more chances to add to the tally.
In contrast to his first run at Sha Tin, California Fortune was able to lead without high pressure and held on strongly to lead throughout the seventh event.
“When he ran at Sha Tin first-up, he was not fully tuned up and I think he came on for that run,” Cruz said. “He’s a big heavy horse and the racing was sure to improve him. But he is probably a Happy Valley horse too – so much speed and the shorter straight seemed to suit him.”
Moreira and Poon both earned the wrath of stewards, the former outed for two meetings for his ride on Premium Champion while the latter copped the same penalty and a HK$30,000 fine for his work aboard Peace On Earth.