The moniker “King of the Valley” is one Caspar Fownes has earned with years of success and a double on Wednesday night has edged the trainer a little closer to claiming the title at the city track for another season.
Fownes has been engaged in a neck-and-neck battle with overall championship leader Ricky Yiu Poon-fai for honours at Happy Valley, but the wins of Sky Darci and Green Luck take him to 28 for the term, three clear of his rival.
The astute handler has long had an outstanding record at the tight-turning circuit and is chasing the most winners there for a third time in the past four seasons.
Fownes was a stand-out in 2016-17 with 39 victories, narrowly beaten out by John Size in 2017-18 (27 to 24), before bouncing back last term with 26, holding off Tony Cruz by three.
With only three meetings left at Happy Valley this campaign – including the season finale on July 15 – the 52-year-old is in the box seat to salute again.
“It’s been a bit of a fight, but hopefully I’ll prevail,” said Fownes, who sits only behind John Moore for most wins ever at Happy Valley. “I’m concentrating on it now so I’ll try my best to get one more title – it would be nice.”
Promising youngster Sky Darci kicked off the race-to-race brace, proving too smart in the first section of the Class Four Renfrew Handicap (1,200m).
The three-year-old won a restricted contest in December before having a break and returning to action with an unlucky fifth at Sha Tin last month when he got caught up in traffic.
Star jockey Joao Moreira ensured Sky Darci had an uninterrupted run this time around and he came away to win in smart fashion.
“He’s a nice horse. I was hoping Neil [Callan] could’ve won on him first-up – he didn’t do much wrong on him, it just didn’t work out. That’s how it is in Hong Kong sometimes,” Fownes said.
“We’ll just see how he pulls up and maybe give him one more run. It’s getting quite hot now.
“I’m sure he’ll make his presence felt in Class Three, he’s a nice progressive horse. He’s had a couple of setbacks so hopefully we can keep him sound, go through and have a bit of fun with him.
“They’re lovely owners, very nice people, so they deserve a nice a horse. We’ll be looking forward to next season with him really.”
The trainer-jockey combination teamed up again in the next race, the Magic Man giving Green Luck a perfect ride in the Class Three Lancashire Handicap (1,650m).
“He’s a quirky horse and dropping back down to Class Three was a big help for him,” Fownes said.
“Joao gave him a great ride – jumped and then went to the fence and found the leader’s back, which was beautiful. I just thought from there he was going to be hard to beat.
“It was just nice to get the job done – it was good for everyone concerned.”
The double means Moreira is now just three wins behind Zac Purton in the fight for the jockeys’ championship, the Australian taking home one victory on the nine-race card in the form of Paul O’Sullivan’s Harriet Jet.
Vincent Ho Chak-yiu was the other rider to come away with two winners, opening his account for Yiu with Eternal Harvest in the fourth event, before landing the upset of the night with Massive Pocket in the Class Two Alnwick Handicap (1,000m).
The Francis Lui Kin-wai-trained six-year-old stormed over the top of his rivals at a juicy $50.35, pipping the favourite Hong Kong Win with the unlucky Country Star flying home for third.
The huge HK$15 million Triple Trio jackpot up for grabs went off with HK$39 left at the end, those lucky punters sharing the HK$7,307,990 dividend.