Columbus County stormed into the Hong Kong International Races conversation with a dominant performance at Happy Valley on Wednesday night.
In his first start since July, the five-year-old exploded from back in the field to take out the Class Two Time Warp Handicap (1,800m) by two-and-a-quarter lengths under Joao Moreira.
“He’s treated them with contempt, he’s blown them away and he had a bit more there as well,” trainer Caspar Fownes said of his charge, who holds an entry for December’s Group One Hong Kong Vase (2,400m).
“I’ve got a lot of time for this horse, it was a big effort first-up at 1,800m. I think he’s a horse that’s got quite a bit of upside and I might even run him in the [Group Two Jockey Club Cup (2,000m) on November 22] against the good horses just to get a gauge where he’s at. I really believe he stays all day, he switches off and he’s got a great turn of foot.”
Columbus County was the second win of an impressive double for Fownes, with Sky Darci staking his claim for January’s Classic Mile with a commanding win in the second section of the Class Three Speed Vision Handicap (1,200m).
“He’s a nice horse and he’s run really well. He’s got a good future for very nice owners so I’m very happy for them, they’ve got a couple of nice horses with me,” Fownes said of the four-year-old, who is owned by the same connections as the exciting Sky Field – another Classic Series hopeful.
“It’s his four-year-old season, he’s always given me the feeling that he’ll get further so we’ll keep him at one more 1,200m here first and then we’ll start to stretch his distance.”
After jumping from gate 12, Sky Darci was wide throughout under Moreira but still powered home to finish a length and a quarter clear of Storm Warnings in second.
It was a big night for the Magic Man, who increased his lead at the top of the jockeys’ premiership to 10 with a four-timer that also included victories aboard U W Brother and Great Smart.
Also among the winners was Keith Yeung Ming-lun, who earned the praises of trainer Douglas Whyte after taking out the Class Three Longines Cup (1,650m) with Best Alliance.
“It was a 10 out of 10 ride,” Whyte said. “The instructions were to jump and get some cover. Things unfolded beautifully from the time the gates opened, [Yeung] took the initiative to be three lengths closer once he saw the gap present itself and that was the winning move.
“It’s nice to get a win out of him, he is limited and he needed a 10 out of 10 ride, which he got. All credit to Keith on this one.”
After three wins early in the season, Yeung went over a month without a victory before saluting at Sha Tin on Saturday and he was thrilled to add to his new-found momentum.
“That makes my October. I was a bit worried at the beginning but it’s come good towards the end,” the jockey said.
Manfred Man Ka-leung enjoyed his best day at the races in four months, landing his first double since June thanks to Great Smart in the Class Five Gold Mount Handicap (1,800m) and V Chevaliers in the Class Four Flying Elite Handicap (1,650m).
The pair joined Man from Peter Ho Leung’s stable while they were in Class Five and have now both won twice for their new handler, with V Chevaliers saluting twice from three starts since changing hands.
“It’s a good result but a bit of a surprise,” Man said of his double, which took him to five victories for the term. “V Chevaliers started from Class Five so he has been able to win twice and hopefully he can win again.”
David Ferraris was another to benefit from a former Ho galloper, with Stanley Park saluting in the first section of the Class Three Speed Vision Handicap in his fourth start for the South African.
After jumping from gate 11, Stanley Park cruised straight to the front and was never headed under in-form apprentice Jerry Chau Chun-lok, who moved to 10 wins for the season.