Trainer support as much as riding ability will decide this season’s hotly contested jockeys’ championship and Caspar Fownes looms as the key man for Zac Purton in his duel with Joao Moreira.
Purton trails by three wins with 11 meetings remaining but has a golden opportunity to close the gap or even take the lead with Moreira sidelined through suspension for the next two fixtures.
Fownes has provided plenty of ammunition for Purton during his late-season surge and there looks to be more to come from the likes of the progressive Rise High.
The pair combined for 16 wins at better than 27 per cent this season but have shifted to another gear over the past six weeks as Purton ratchets up the pressure on his rival.
Purton trailed by 11 heading into the Happy Valley meeting on April 25 but a five-timer – including two wins for Fownes – closed the gap to single figures and signalled “game on” in the man-on-man battle.
Those two wins started a stretch in which Purton had eight wins from 22 rides for the Fownes stable – with Moreira looking elsewhere for rides during that period.
The Magic Man rode 19 winners for Fownes last term but his opportunities for the yard have virtually evaporated as the trainer throws his support behind Purton and his quest for a second championship.
When Purton won his first title in 2013-14 it was Fownes who provided 24 of his 112 wins – a high percentage for a jockey who relies on support for wide range of trainers rather than one or two powerful stables.
On Wednesday night, Purton teams with Fownes on five runners at the Valley and while they may not look that progressive a group, a case can be made for each of them.
Veteran sprinter Peace Combination could be the best of the quintet as he gets a gun draw over his pet course and distance in the On Lan Handicap (1,000m).
Peace Combination’s career record isn’t great but he has been consistent this season, particularly over the shortest trip at the Valley, winning twice and placing seven times from nine starts.
Last time out he was defeated by a nose, denied by a great ride by Alberto Sanna on Dr Race on April 18.
The seven-year-old was withdrawn with lameness on May 23 but only missed a few days of work and looks well placed in a below-par Class Four.
The danger could be the well-drawn Beaut Beaut (Ben So Tik-hung) as trainer Peter Ho Leung tries a gear change (visors back on) in an effort to find another length with a horse racing well but stuck on his mark.
The Fownes-trained Friends Of Ka Ying, a Group One winner as a juvenile in Australia, hasn’t saluted for nearly two-and-a-half years but recent efforts indicate he is edging closer.
Friends Of Ka Ying moved to Fownes at the start of this year and after two runs on the dirt, a switch back to the city track turned his form around.
A wide barrier is a blow in the Class Three Wyndham Handicap (1,650m) but Fownes putting blinkers back on the six-year-old might provide the breakthrough.
Friends Of Ka Ying wore blinkers in each of his eight starts in Australia and putting the headgear on for the first time coincided with his only local victory.
The gelding has been racing like a horse that needs a spark and an encouraging trial in blinkers on May 25 indicated that the gear change could provide it.
The Legend and Smart Baby both bring form good enough to be in contention, but the Purton ride for Fownes that could sneak under the radar is Letsgofree.
Another mid-season transfer, Letsgofree drops back into Class Five and returns to his best course and distance in the Lyndhurst Handicap (1,200m).