Caspar Fownes had one goal in mind for Senor Toba at Sha Tin on Monday – secure a spot in March’s BMW Hong Kong Derby – and it was mission accomplished as the talented young stayer ground his rivals into the turf.
Senor Toba has acclimatised well to life in Hong Kong after beginning his career in Australia, winning the Group Three Frank Packer Plate at Randwick before finishing second in the Group One Queensland Derby in May – a well-worn path for owners chasing success in the city’s most prestigious race.
After blowing out the cobwebs over 1,400m first-up in November, the four-year-old son of Toronado caught the eye with a strong run over a mile on international day and the step up to 2,000m for Monday’s Class Two Hong Kong Sports Institute 30th Anniversary Cup looked perfect for him.
Punters certainly thought so, backing Senor Toba into $2.1, and he justified that price by overcoming a slow start to prove the superior stayer, coming away to beat Enjoying by a half-length.
Senor Toba came into the race with a rating of 83 and the win will lift him to somewhere near 90, all but guaranteeing him a start in the HK$24 million Derby.
That’s the positive. The negative is that history is not on his side, with Vengeance Of Rain (2005) the last horse to win over 2,000m in Hong Kong before saluting in the Derby.
“I’m not worried about that, I just wanted to get the points on the board for this horse and then I can worry about training him for the one big race – his target is the Derby – so he’ll be spot on for that race, the rest of it will be gravy,” Fownes said.
“He’s the type of horse who will be better suited with a good speed on and then he’ll sustain a long run – which you’ll get in the four-year-old series. All in all we’re happy, we’ve got something really good to work with there, so it’s exciting.
“He’s a lovely horse, it’s nice to see them come and do that in their third run in Hong Kong. It was a very pleasing effort. He was a little bit like a drunken sailor down the straight – all over the place – so I’ll be looking at putting some equipment on him to help him focus a little better.
“He did his job nicely but he’s a horse that will keep improving. You’ll probably see the best of him in December but this is his Derby year so we’ll be going forward to try to get a good result there.”
Jockey Joao Moreira was also full of praise for Senor Toba.
“He’s a real stayer. He doesn’t have early speed, obviously, but we had a smooth run from a good gate,” the Brazilian said.
“He quickened nicely but I still feel there is more improvement to come. He feels like he is 75-80 per cent. He doesn’t need to improve too much more to be competitive in the Hong Kong Derby.
“He has already proven to be a quality stayer. Not too many horses win third-up in Class Two.”
It was the first of a double for the Fownes-Moreira combination, also capturing the Class Four Boccia Handicap (1,000m) with debutant Galaxy Witness.
Like his stablemate, Galaxy Witness also blew the start, but he only had half the distance to make up for it, which suggests he’s got plenty of upside.
“He’s a nice horse, that was good,” the reigning champion trainer said.
Galaxy Witness gave Moreira his 50th winner of the campaign and he finished the day with 51 after John Size’s Sight Spirit won like the long odds-on favourite he was in the Class Four Table Tennis Handicap (1,400m).
The treble catapults the Magic Man to the lead in the jockeys’ championship, two ahead of Zac Purton, who remains sidelined after a nasty fall earlier this month.