Happy Valley specialist Caspar Fownes concedes he was worried about the future of his stable newcomer Champion Supreme before a simple gear change proved pivotal.
The Australian three-year-old arrived in Fownes’ yard earlier this year and was struggling to make an impression before the trainer instigated a change in fortune by putting blinkers on the gelding.
Champion Supreme then flew home for an eye-catching fifth on debut.
“He wasn’t showing much early days until I smacked a pair of blinkers on him, seriously, he was quite disappointing prior to that,” Fownes said.
“Once we put the cuffs on him it really worked him up so hopefully he can go out there and do a job for us.”
Zac Purton retains the ride on the gelding, who jumps from the favourable barrier three in the Class Four Chukyo Handicap (1,200m) at Happy Valley on Wednesday night.
Racing greenly on debut, Purton copped a bump upon jumping which forced him to go back in the field.
“He jumped out not that quick and copped a bit of a check but he stayed on nicely and was a little bit unlucky for a first-up run,” he said.
“I'm glad we’ve drawn a gate and the experience last time would have done him the world of good and hopefully from where he is drawn he can make his own luck and give himself a chance to win. He will be a lot closer [to the speed] this time around.”
Another horse on the improve for Fownes is the newly acquired Chaparral Star.
The former Michael Chang Chun-wai-trained galloper made his way to Fownes at the end of last season and has not been out of the placings in his three starts under his new trainer.
After winning in Class Five grade in October, Chaparral Star has continued to improve, running second in consecutive Class Four races since. Fownes said the time was now for the four-year-old.
“He’s very sharp, he’s very well,” he said in a blunt assessment of his horse. “He’s been unlucky in some of his runs but he should hopefully get the job done this time because he’s had a couple of looks at the track and performed well.
“He is the sort of horse that is improving each time so he is a chance to sneak another couple of wins off them.”
Known as the “King of the Valley”, Fownes takes a strong hand to the races, with six starters across the night.
With eight wins and 20 placings this season, he is hoping to convert more seconds and thirds into winning cheques.
“I’d be disappointed if I don’t snag a couple of winners, the team seems to be back in form and hopefully we can start getting a few more wins on the board,” he said.
Among his other chances is the lightly raced Bigwood, who will have his first attempt at Happy Valley after coming off a win last start.
The former Irish gelding has had just five starts in Hong Kong and Fownes admits anything could happen in his first go at the unique city track.
“I am hopeful more than anything. If he takes to the track, he will run well, first time around there is always a bit tricky,” he said.
“He’s drawn the one gate so he gets his chance to handle the track and make his presence felt. He’s in good form and his body weight is good.
“He is the sort of horse that I would like to see another 40 to 50 pounds of body weight on him but he remains well from his last run so I am expecting a good run.”
Capping off a big week for Fownes, his second highest-rated horse, Rise High, trialled well ahead of a possible hit out later this month in the Class One Chevalier Cup (1,600m) at Sha Tin. Under a hold from Purton, Rise High raced strongly around the field to win Tuesday’s hit-out.