Southern Legend is a bona fide star and the defending champion, but it’s another galloper that elicits the most excitement from Caspar Fownes ahead of Sunday’s Group Three Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse (1,800m).

Dances With Dragon heads into the race on the back of an impressive fifth behind the all-conquering Golden Sixty and Fownes believes he’s perfectly place to add another Group Three success to his resume.

“It’s the race he’s been set for all season, it’s a realistic target for him. He comes in with a nice galloping weight and he’s on top of his game coming off a great run with closing sectionals nearly as good as Golden Sixty,” the trainer said. “He’s going to be a very tough horse to beat.”

Dances With Dragon has won four times and climbed 30 rating points in the eight months since he joined Fownes from Peter Ho Leung and his current handler is confident the seven-year-old has not finished his march.

“He’s rated 113 and hopefully that’ll change after the weekend and then he’s nearly there as a Group One horse,” Fownes said of the gelding, who is entered for the Cup (2,000m) and Vase (2,400m) at the Hong Kong International Races. “If he gets to 118 or 120, he’s up in the top 10 to 15 horses in Hong Kong.”

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Dances With Dragon carries just 117 pounds under Keith Yeung Ming-lun, while Southern Legend will lug 129 pounds.

Fownes remains open-minded about Southern Legend’s international day prospects ahead of the eight-year-old’s third-up run in the Ladies’ Purse.

“We’ve got options, we’ve got the Mile and the Cup,” Fownes said. “Last year I ran him in the Vase and it didn’t work out too well but he’s certainly shown us that 2,000m is not a problem for him.

“We’ll just play it by ear, [Golden Sixty] is definitely a factor in the Mile. We’ll see what international horses are coming to Hong Kong and make the decision whether I press onto the [Group Two Jockey Club Cup (2,000m)] in November or not.

“He’s a straightforward horse, so even if I run him at a trip I can bring him back to a mile.”

Southern Legend’s build-up has been very similar to when he won the race last year, with the warhorse within two-and-a-half lengths of the winner in two Group-level starts so far this season.

Southern Legend wins the Ladies’ Purse last season.

“He’s very well. He goes back to try and defend his crown and he remains in good form,” Fownes said of Southern Legend, who jumps from gate 10 and will be ridden by Neil Callan for the first time.

“We’ll make our own luck – he’s drawn wide but it doesn’t matter, we’ve got the whole back straight to work out our position.”

With eight horses allocated the bottom weight of 113 pounds, a host of jockeys are riding horses for the first time, including Karis Teetan aboard Savvy Nine, Vagner Borges on Preciousship and Alex Lai Hoi-wing with Dark Dream.

“It’s nice to have a ride but I’m treating it like a normal race,” Lai said of his first Group ride since this contest last year. “I worked the horse [on Friday] morning and I think he’s in form.”