Zebrowski could make the step back into Group One company within a matter of weeks after a gutsy victory in the Group Three Centenary Vase (1,800m) at Sha Tin on Sunday.
The five-year-old raced at the top level three times in Australia pre-import, including a runner-up finish in the 2020 Australian Derby, and has now strung together consecutive Group Three victories in Hong Kong.
While trainer Caspar Fownes had suggested the 2,400m of May’s Champions & Chater Cup would be a perfect reintroduction to Group One racing for Zebrowski, the galloper has put the Gold Cup (2,000m) on February 20 on the table with his slashing form.
“He’s stepping up to every task and sometimes you have to throw them in the deep end a little bit, out of their comfort zone rating-wise,” Fownes said.
Back-to-back Group 3s! Zebrowski takes the Centenary Vase for Matthew Poon & Caspar Fownes. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/b5BfcPdiSJ— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) January 30, 2022
“He’s a tough bugger and it was a tough win – he keeps getting better. You can imagine him when he gets over further, he’ll be so much better because he’ll just keep on running. It’s exciting.
“If he ran in a Gold Cup he certainly wouldn’t be disgraced – he’d still be a first-four chance in my opinion because he’s such a good stayer.
“Most importantly, we will see how he pulls up because he’s a ‘jointy’ horse, he has his issues. China certainly helps in preparation for his races so he’ll be going back there next week and then obviously if I’m happy with how he is, we’ll bring him back for the Gold Cup.”
After pinging the gates carrying just 113 pounds under Matthew Poon Ming-fai, Zebrowski was on terms with lead pair Ka Ying Star and Reliable Team early before settling just off the speed in a race run at an even tempo.
Crushing! Kurpany cruises home in the finale under @alfie_ck94 for Caspar Fownes. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/FEibpp03uq— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) January 30, 2022
Zebrowski willed his way to the front at the 200m and dug deep to hold off outsider Butterfield by a short-head, handing Poon a second consecutive victory in the race after his success aboard Glorious Dragon 12 months ago.
“I said ‘look, it’s most important to jump well, you’ve got no weight. Make sure you have him up there, he’s tough and he just keeps fighting’,” Fownes said. “I’m happy for the kid, you give him the opportunity and he’s got the job done.”
Fownes confirmed Columbus County will definitely head to the Gold Cup after he hit the line nicely in sixth.
“He sort of got impeded at the 150m, ran out of room, but he was strong through the line and he ran the way I wanted him to run. He’s on target to be very competitive in the Gold Cup, and certainly the Champions & Chater will be where he’ll be at his best,” said Fownes, who completed a double later on the card thanks to Kurpany’s victory in the Class Two Aldrich Bay Handicap (1,200m) on the all-weather track.
New year, same set-up
The Jockey Club will step up restrictions for key participants during the Lunar New Year period, with executive director of racing Andrew Harding confirming trainers and jockeys have been implored to avoid mixing with anyone they don’t live with.
“They’ve been asked for their continued support to maintain the racing bubble,” Harding said.
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“This includes to avoid social gatherings with non-permanent households during the upcoming Chinese New Year period, and to receive the booster Covid-19 vaccine as soon as possible.”
The restrictions are as tight as anything jockeys and trainers have experience during the pandemic and mirror those put in place during the 2020 festive period.
Hong Kong racing will continue to operate behind closed doors until at least Thursday’s meeting, with only staff members, club officials, licensed personnel and those crucial to the running of race meetings permitted on track, and those stipulations are expected to be extended this week.
Interport series canned again
The annual interport series between Hong Kong and Macau has been cancelled for the third straight year because of the ongoing logistical difficulties created by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Macau Hong Kong Trophy at Taipa racecourse was scheduled for March 13 and is traditionally simulcast by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, with officials confirming no decision has been made about whether a Macau fixture will still be offered for betting or if a meeting from another jurisdiction will replace it.
Despite the absence of the Macau Hong Kong Trophy, the Jockey Club was going to push ahead and show a Macau meeting in the same slot last year but the Macau Jockey Club was unable to guarantee it could offer a programme worthy of a simulcast, with the Osaka Hai meeting from Japan telecast instead.
The Sha Tin leg of the interport series normally takes place in May and was last won by the John Moore-trained Good Standing in 2019.
Extended absence for Mo
The fractured toe and “mild” head injury Dylan Mo Hin-tung suffered when falling from Make It Quick at Happy Valley last Wednesday will keep him out of action until at least the race meeting on February 12.
The Jockey Club confirmed this week that Mo “will be stood down from riding trackwork and in races for the meetings to be conducted at Sha Tin Racecourse on Sunday, 30 January 2022 and Thursday, 3 February 2022”.
Mo will then miss the meetings on February 6 and 9 through suspension before hopefully proving he is fit enough to return to the saddle.