A 10-length romp by surface specialist Vanilla capped a dirt track four-timer for Caspar Fownes at Sha Tin on Wednesday night and the trainer very nearly made it five as a potential Dubai carnival contender went within a whisker in a thrilling Class One.
A pumped-up Fownes pulled out a trademark celebration – hooting, hollering and fist-pumping his way out into the winner’s enclosure – after track specialist Vanilla cleared out to score by an astonishing margin to complete the quartet.
“I thought he would win by 11 lengths, actually,” Fownes said, tongue-in-cheek, after the seven-year-old produced a demolition job on his favoured surface, at an ideal trip and, just as importantly, in Class Four for the first time in his 47-start local career.
“He isn’t a Class Four horse, he is just a dirt horse but there just isn’t that many races for him. He is just a real stayer, and even though he won over 1,800m there, if there were 2,000m dirt races in Class Three he would be very competitive.”
A relatively subdued Caspar Fownes celebrates Vanilla's win ... that's four for the night. pic.twitter.com/kH1hqZB4Za— scmpRacingPost (@SCMPRacingPost) January 18, 2017
Fownes won the opening two races of the night with Class Five pair Born Dragon (Joao Moreira) and Sweet Bean (Brett Prebble) before Dundonnell (Silvestre de Sousa) went within a short-head of beating Eroico (Karis Teetan) in the Penfold Park Handicap.
The close third in a race where a head separated the first four horses was good enough for Fownes to confirm Dundonnell would join his dirt star Gun Pit on the plane to Dubai.
“Of course we will go after that, he was beaten less than a head into third and probably would have won with the right run,” Fownes said.
“That was his first run on the dirt but we’ve always thought he was a dirt horse, so we weren’t surprised. We are really excited to head over to Dubai with him, we think he deserves a crack at the races over there. We haven’t finalised the plan yet but we will probably have to go for a lead-up race.”
Fownes’ four was made up of two race-to-race doubles, with the Class Five brace early, and Sky King’s storming win preceding Vanilla’s stunning success.
The wins also came for four different jockeys, but perhaps the most notable was Douglas Whyte on Sky King, with the South African rarely riding for Fownes in recent years.
Whyte was also making his first appearance since a month-long suspension so his first win for Fownes since 2011 was a welcome one.
“It was nice to get a winner for Cas, we’ve had great success in the past,” Whyte said, with the pair combining to win the 2010 Hong Kong Derby with Super Satin.
“I had to work for the win, I didn’t stop riding him the whole way. He really was resenting the kickback and getting him away from the rail and out of it was the key to the win.”
Fownes was hopeful his first winner of the night might yet have a career in Hong Kong after dropping into cellar grade and going winless in nine starts.
“Born Dragon finally keeping some weight on, he is a very lightly framed horse, he has turned a corner so maybe he can win back up in Class Four,” Fownes said after the four-year-old led all the way for Moreira, and while the trainer was understandably less bullish about Sweet Bean’s upside, he was no less complementary of a six-year-old that has somehow won five races.
“He has raced a lot to get those wins, but he has been consistent, he is a straightforward horse and he can race all the time, he cops it well,” Fownes said.
Eroico’s Class One win helped trainer John Size to a double, with Bond Elegance scoring at his second start, but perhaps the most impressive dirt performance of the night was from California Whip (Neil Callan).
The Tony Cruz-trained four-year-old, placed in last year’s Britannia Stakes at Royal Ascot, made it look easy as he ran away with an extended ratings band Class Two over 1,200m.
California Whip’s time of 1:08.45 was the third-fastest over the course and distance this season and 0.2 seconds faster than Eroico’s win.