Caspar Fownes has enjoyed a perfect warm up for the biggest week in Hong Kong racing, collecting a double at Sha Tin on Sunday while seeing his biggest rival in the Hong Kong Cup fall by the wayside.
The withdrawal of Japanese superstar Almond Eye on Saturday morning was a big blow to the event, robbing it of a genuine international superstar, but there is a silver lining for those eight remaining in the race – they’ve now got a live shot at the HK$28 million contest.
Fownes will saddle up the talented Rise High in the Group One and he is now rated a $5.50 chance in international fixed-odds markets.
The five-year-old gelding ended Beauty Generation’s 10-race winning streak in October’s Group Two Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy before finishing fourth in the Jockey Club Cup last start and he’s gone from being a good place chance to a definite winning hope.
“[Almond Eye] was the $1.30 favourite – she’s a superstar,” he said.
“For me, we’re very happy – my horse is in good form going into the race. We’ve just got another week to keep him cherry ripe and hopefully we can put in a big effort for Hong Kong.”
Fownes kicked off the week in style with Sky Darci and Enfolding saluting at Sha Tin.
The former finished second on debut last month but went one better in the Class Four Ashley Handicap (1,400m) under the guidance of Umberto Rispoli.
After settling midfield, Sky Darci kept finding in the straight to beat home long-shots Rich And Lucky and Gala Night.
“It’s nice to get the first winner with the young horse,” Fownes said. “It was just a workmanlike sort of win – I don’t know how strong those races are going to be down the road.
“The horses that ran close – they were all big odds, obviously showing nothing in the morning. You’ll have to see how that form works out over the next few races.”
Enfolding doubled the tally for the stable in the Class Three Nathan Handicap (1,650m), narrowly fighting off Holy Heart and Last Kingdom.
The five-year-old has now won back-to-back races, a good result after placing in six of his previous seven runs for the trainer.
“This guy has had problems for a long time, since I’ve had him there have been niggles here and there. But he’s a good horse, he’s tough, and he’s got heart,” Fownes said.
“It’s just nice to see him try hard. He’s been so consistent since I’ve had him, he’s been racing really well, he’s enjoying his racing.”
The all-weather track had favoured on-pace horses early in the day, so Fownes instructed jockey Silvestre de Sousa to not get too far back and it worked out.
“I just thought with the light weight and a good draw, we’d be fifth or sixth, and it was close to that mark,” he said.
“He travelled up well, took the gap up the inside and just got the job done.”
The win completed a double for De Sousa, who also tasted success with Michael Chang Chun-wai’s Mister Monte.