Caspar Fownes cleaned up in the mud on Sunday and will back up dirt specialist Vanilla in the Group Three Queen Mother Memorial Cup this weekend but he says the clock is ticking on the seven-year-old’s career in Hong Kong.
Fownes won with Imperial Seal (Joao Moreira) making his first appearance on the dirt early on the card but Vanilla (Zac Purton) won his seventh race on the surface.
Originally bought as a classic four-year-old hopeful after a second placing in the Australian Derby at Randwick on soft ground, Vanilla has found the turf tracks too hard and remains a local maiden on turf, but found his niche on the dirt.
“And that’s the problem now. He’s running out of races quickly, with not much on for those horses once they get into Class Two, and it might be that his owners would be better off retiring him unless the Jockey Club can come to the party and programme more races for these higher-grade runners on dirt,” Fownes said.
The immediate future though is a return to turf and Fownes is hopeful of a week’s rain ahead to help Vanilla to make a leap from Class Three to one of the few real features on the calendar that might be open to him.
“We know from his form in Australia that he can run 2,400m, he should have no weight and, if he does happen to get a wet track, he’s got a squeak in it,” Fownes said. “And where else can I run him?”
Imperial Seal won’t be running in any features any time soon but he has managed to post three wins this season in Class Four – doing the job in anyone’s language for a horse who had always looked limited – and this win opened up a new avenue for him on the all-weather.
“He’d had a fever between runs and was scratched prior to when Joao rode him last time, when he ran fifth and just needed it. I was just lucky Joao hadn’t been booked for anything in this race because the club divided the Class Four mile,” Fownes said. “I told him the horse would be fitter today.”
Moreira said Fownes had gambled on switching surfaces with the gelding, who was brave.
“It was a gamble but Caspar thought he would handle this track from his barrier trials on it,” Moreira said. “He was right and it was quite a tough win. It wasn’t easy to get past that leader with the apprentice on it and the light weight and, as soon as he did, the second horse came at him down the outside and he fought him off too.”