DARREN Gauci riding at his brilliant best helped propel retaining trainer Lawrie Fownes to joint top of the trainer standings at Sha Tin yesterday. Gauci scored on Fownes' Courageous in the third before immediately going out and timing his winning run to perfection on Bruce Hutchison's Timah in the next event. Courageous' success took Fownes to 30 winners for the season and moved him alongside defending champion John Moore in the enduring battle for training honours. Fownes' prescience in signing Gauci in preference to others last back-end is now paying rich rewards. Gauci has helped him to a vintage season that is far from over. The former champion trainer of Calcutta is as competitive as they come. He has performed wonders to move to the top of the table as his stable does not have the strength in numbers of his counterparts such as Moore, Patrick Biancone, Ivan Allan or David Hill. And he is ready to take his challenge all the way to the final meeting. ''It will be very difficult but I will be in there fighting for as long as I can,'' said a spirited Fownes. ''I've still got a few to come - the barrel is not empty yet by any means.'' With Gauci in the saddle, his horses are getting some dream rides. Courageous looked none too keen to go through with his effort yesterday, hanging in badly when coming to challenge Rainbow Connection and Diablo. But Gauci reached for the jockeys' handbook of equine psychology - the whip and timing. His judgement of pace ensured Courageous had the momentum; his strength cajoled him back on to a straight course. The combination spelt victory. How often this has happened. Bruce Hutchison may not train as many winners as some but his loyal owners tend to find them very profitable. They pulled it off again yesterday when Timah swept home late to win going away from Insider and the improving Scandalmonger. Hutchison has done connections proud with Timah who runs in the money for them time and time again, especially over his favoured Sha Tin mile. Another of the territory's most consistent performers, the David Hill-trained Muhim, took the feature Queen Elizabeth II Cup in facile fashion under Johnny Marshall. Muhim had been desperately unlucky on each of his last two starts but Marshall, finally beginning to get some quality mounts to match his riding skills, made no mistake. He switched Muhim off at the rear of his field, eased him out at the top of the straight and the rest was history. The Cup was theirs from some way out, leaving Victory And Glory to grimly hold Happy Guy and Endurance for second. The only surprise was Muhim's 37-1 starting price. Hill said: ''He's a great favourite of mine but even accounting for that I still thought he would go close today. He was stood on his head the other day and then ran into a wall of horses on his last run. ''I told John to drop him out and he rode him perfectly - exactly to instructions.'' Muhim's win took Hill to 29 winners for the season and he is another major title contender in an engaging tussle that is set to go to the wire. Northern Fire Ball was the disappointment of the feature event. He hung badly and the four-year-old may have been feeling the effects of two hard races to finish third in the Derby and then fourth in the Gold Cup. Champion jockey-elect Tony Cruz bounced back from Northern Fire Ball's dismal performance to bolt home in the last on Eddie Lo's Lucky Treasure. In the process he completed a double as he was also on the mark on Peter Ng Bik-keun's surprise winner, Icy Bet, in the second. The double took Cruz to 59 winners for the season, 12 ahead of Basil Marcus, and dispelled any thoughts that the title may not be his. It is. For the sixth time.