Caspar Fownes entered the season with a clear number one seed among his Classic Series hopefuls but things are less clear following the retirement of Killer Bee, who reeled off four wins in five starts last season before returning with a disappointing seventh, requiring a wind operation and ultimately retiring.
That’s not to say the reigning champion trainer doesn’t have some significant firepower at his disposal as he chases a second consecutive victory in the Hong Kong Derby following Sky Darci’s win this year, with Senor Toba laying down a marker at Sha Tin on Sunday with a big run for third in his second start in the city.
Fownes unveils another of his four-year-old series aspirants in Saturday’s Class Two Lukfook Jewellery Cup (1,400m), with Group One New Zealand Derby (2,400m) winner Rocket Spade making his Hong Kong debut in a tough race featuring a number of gallopers he’ll likely face again once the Classic Series rolls around in the new year.
“He brings nice form and his first run is a nice warm-up run over 1,400m. Hopefully he just takes some ground off them, just like Senor Toba did first-up and then he franked that with a nice run second-up,” Fownes said.
“He’ll be a similar sort of horse. He hasn’t run for a long time so you just hope they can just get that rustiness out of their system and show you something.
“I haven’t put the blinkers on him for this run – he’s raced in blinkers for most of his starts overseas but we’ll just take each race as it comes. He’ll probably have the two runs and then he’ll go to the series.”
Rocket Spade was trained by Paul O’Sullivan’s brother Lance and his training partner Andrew Scott in New Zealand, where he won five of his nine starts before crossing the Tasman Sea and running eighth behind Explosive Jack in the Group One Australian Derby (2,400m).
Fownes believes he has three clear stand-out four-year-olds at present, suggesting Storm Legend is also right in the mix – “he was very unlucky the other day” – just over a month out from the first leg of the series, the Classic Mile.
“I think I’ve got some nice ones there, fingers crossed,” the 54-year-old said.
Saturday’s contest shapes as a belter, with Blaze Warrior – who is arguably the number one seed for the Classic Series – lining up alongside fellow smart four-year-olds The Golden Scenery and Ima Single Man.
Rocket Spade jumps from gate eight under Vincent Ho Chak-yiu and will carry 118 pounds after being assigned a rating of 82, with Joao Moreira aboard likely favourite Blaze Warrior to begin just outside the son of Fastnet Rock in gate nine.
Fownes also saddles up Wonderful Horse, Telecom Missile, Loyal Ambition, Jazz Steed, Big Brook and The Hulk at the 29th meeting of the season as he looks to add to his nine winners so far in 2021-22.