It’s no secret Caspar Fownes has always had plenty of time for Columbus County and the trainer is confident his five-year-old has a genuine chance of breaking through at the top level in Sunday’s Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2,400m).
Columbus County turned in arguably his best Hong Kong performance over the same distance in December’s Hong Kong Vase – finishing third behind Aidan O’Brien’s Mogul and Exultant – and Fownes will head to the race full of expectation.
“The horse has been prepared really well for this race – this is the race I think we have a real chance to win,” he said.
“Hopefully this will take him to that level where he is going to show us that he’s going to be one of the better stayers in Hong Kong for the coming seasons.”
It's Mogul's Vase!— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) December 13, 2020
Ryan Moore & Aidan O'Brien combine to win their third HK$20 million G1 @LONGINES Hong Kong Vase after Highland Reel succeeded in 2015 + 2017. #HKIR #HKracing pic.twitter.com/eAfI3xSHhJ
Columbus County finished eighth in the Group Three Queen Mother Memorial Cup (2,400m) when carrying top weight under Zac Purton earlier this month.
With Purton continuing his association with Exultant, Joao Moreira jumps aboard after piloting Columbus County to his Vase placing and also winning aboard the son of Redwood in a Class Two at Happy Valley earlier this season.
“He gets on well with Joao and I’m very happy to have him on board for this race,” Fownes said. “We always respect Exultant because he’s been a superstar and he is a superstar and those sorts of horses, you never write them off even though he’s just a little bit off his game these days.
“He’s had a freshen-up in Conghua which could be just what he needed and he could bring back his best, but I still think we’re not far off him – like we were in December.”
Fownes saddles up eight runners at Sha Tin as he looks to continue his push for the trainers’ title, including Sky Field in the Group Three Sha Tin Vase (1,200m) four weeks after the speedster placed in the Group One Chairman’s Sprint Prize.
“He’ll produce a big run that’s for sure but he’s not weighted right in this race with 130 pounds,” Fownes said of Sky Field, who gives rising star Courier Wonder 12 pounds.
“Courier Wonder could be the next superstar of Hong Kong the way he’s racing, he could be anything. But Sky Field is very well, I’m sure he’ll run his race. He’s still improving and he’s still learning so it’s just part of that process.”
Fownes keeps Killer Bee at six furlongs for the Class Three River Verdon Handicap but admits it’s only a matter of time before the three-year-old steps out in trip after two wins from his first three starts.
“He’s going to get further, we know that. He’s drawn awkwardly in eight so we’ll just go back and ride him like he’s the best horse in the race and hopefully he’ll come and do his thing again. He’s in good form and there’s no reason he won’t,” Fownes said of a horse he’s likely to have Classic Series aspirations with next season.
“After this we’re going to go to 1,400m but we’re just building him slowly. They’ve got to get into the mid-80s [to get a run in the Classic Mile] so we’re trying to get as many points as we can on him in the next couple of runs and then we’ll see. Next season there’s no doubt he’s going to be quite a serious horse for the stable.”
Fownes takes a double-pronged attack into the Class Three Indigenous Handicap (1,400m), sending around Royal Bomb and Hall Of Champ, while he also saddles up Sunday Betting, The Hulk and Telecom Puma.