He’s seen his buffer at the top all but disappear but Caspar Fownes remains confident he will be right in the thick of the fight for the trainers’ premiership come the end of the season.

Fownes kept his slender lead intact thanks to The Rock’s victory at Sha Tin on Saturday and turns for home with a two-win advantage over John Size after 44 of the 88 meetings, leading Size 41-39 after the 11-time champion was successful with Destine Jewellery.

Frankie Lor Fu-chuen and Francis Lui Kin-wai are next in line with 34 winners, while Tony Cruz is also right around the mark on 33.

Caspar Fownes praises jockey Alexis Badel for his front-running effort aboard The Rock at Sha Tin on Saturday.

“I’m still confident, I still have a lot of winners there,” he said. “Of course [Size] has a lot of winners but you need some luck in this game.

“You need some good rides, you need less problems with horses and if everything goes smoothly I’m confident I’ll be still fighting all the way to the end.”

After bursting out of the blocks with a blistering start to the season, Fownes has seen his lead eaten away by Size at a rapid rate.

Since his treble on New Year’s Day, Fownes has managed only four wins to Size’s 15 but he’s intent on looking forward as he fights to maintain his spot atop the pile.

“We’re both going to give it 100 per cent – everyone is – and we’ll just see what happens,” he said.

Fownes was pleased to see The Rock ring up his second Hong Kong success at start nine in the Class Two Yuen Long Handicap (1,600m), with Alexis Badel assuming the lead 1,200m from home aboard the five-year-old and controlling the race.

“We studied the race and we found there wasn’t going to be much pace,” Fownes said. “The horse is very fit and I said ‘if you jump nicely, give him a little squeeze and if you’re going to be outside the lead and no one takes it up, you take it up’.

“He’s given him a 10 out of 10 ride and I’m very happy he got the winning result. He’s a very honest horse and I’m happy to see him come out and win a race in Class Two.”

Filling the minor placings were a pair of imports with Derby aspirations, the David Hayes-trained Conqueror finishing second and Me Tsui Yu-sak’s Arthur’s Kingdom running on nicely into third.

The pair, who had competed at Group One level pre-import, were sent out as despised outsiders after slow starts to life in Hong Kong – Conqueror at $66 with Tony Piccone aboard and Arthur’s Kingdom at $134 under Blake Shinn.

Conqueror’s showing was a welcome relief for Hayes after the legendary trainer was forced to redirect the son of Fastnet Rock.

Conqueror (right) and Arthur’s Kingdom (centre) run home behind The Rock at Sha Tin.

After his charge was scratched from his intended Hong Kong debut after kicking out in the gates in December, Hayes was forced to race Conqueror on the all-weather track – a move that saw him finish 15 lengths away in 13th.

“That was a huge improvement, he’s one run behind but he’s back on track. He just hated the dirt – an Australian horse at his first run back,” Hayes said.

“It was a really good run, he’ll be better over 2,000m too. His trackwork had been saying he’s going along all right so he’ll head into the Classic Cup and then the Derby, I hope.”

The third-roughest runner in the race Alpha Hedge ($31) claimed fourth, with punters lucky enough to find the quartet rewarded with a juicy HK$203,724 dividend for a HK$10 investment.

Another Derby hopeful was alongside Alpha Hedge in fifth, with Sea Of Life unable to extend his winning streak to three in his first Class Two appearance.