Douglas Whyte believes a trip to Qatar for the H.H. The Amir Trophy (2,400m) at Al Rayyan Racecourse on February 18 could “spark up” his two-time Group One winner Russian Emperor.
Russian Emperor is joined by the Caspar Fownes-trained Senor Toba among the entries for the Qatar Group One contest, which boasts a purse of US$2.5 million (HK$19.5 million).
“It’s on the cards, I’m seriously considering it and it looks a doable race. It’s over 2,400m, the track is obviously going to be very similar to Hong Kong and while I don’t know what I’m taking on at the moment, it could be a very good adventure for both of us,” Whyte said.
“He’s a horse that I think has got great potential and a bit of a spark up in a different environment might just be the key to him,” Whyte added of Russian Emperor, who finished fifth behind Romantic Warrior in the Group One Hong Kong Cup (2,000m) at his last start.
Russian Emperor, whose most recent Group One victory came in the Champions & Chater Cup (2,400m), will run in the Group One Stewards’ Cup (1,600m) on January 29 before Whyte makes a final call.
A trip to Qatar would mean Russian Emperor will miss out on the chance to defend his crown in the HK$12 million Group One Hong Kong Gold Cup (2,000m) on February 26.
“We’re going to bump into Romantic Warrior, maybe Golden Sixty – not that I’m afraid that he won’t earn prize money but if we don’t have rain it’s difficult to beat those kind of horses,” Whyte said.
“A lot of people are going to be tickled by the prize money [in Qatar] and are going to be heading that way, so we’ll see what the field is like and make a final decision later.”
Senor Toba will run in the Group Three Centenary Vase (1,800m) on February 5 before Fownes makes a decision on whether to return to a country he recently spent time in during the Fifa World Cup.
“I’m serious about going, it’s huge money and at this stage that’s the plan,” Fownes said. “We’ll run him on the fifth in the 1,800m and then we’ll see how we go.
“It’s a good set up over there, the track is nice. It wouldn’t matter [how firm the track is], he handles anything.”
Benno Yung Tin-pang may not have been as shocked as punters but Fun Together’s knockout victory in the second section of the Class Four Lam Tei Handicap (1,200m) still left the veteran trainer suitably surprised.
Sent out a $143 chance in his second career start after finishing eighth on debut at Happy Valley last month, Fun Together jumped well under Jerry Chau Chun-lok and was able to settle one-off the fence forward of midfield.
After tracking $8.4 chance Victory Scholars for much of the home straight, Fun Together popped out with 200m left to run and grabbed him in the final bounds to salute by a short head.
“It was a surprise, I expected him to run well but I didn’t think he could win against that field,” Yung said.
“It was a good Chinese New Year gift for the stable. He does have talent, last start he wasn’t bad and after the race he had mucus. Also, he was still a bit green at the finish.”
Fun Together is by far the longest-priced winner so far this season – almost double next roughest victor King Land ($75), who is also trained by Yung – and he wasn’t the only galloper to send punters reeling on Sunday, with Not Usual Star taking out the Class Three Tai Tong Handicap (1,200m) at $68.
A winner in four of 13 pre-import starts in Australia, Not Usual Star was having just his second Hong Kong run despite arriving in March last year and trainer Chris So Wai-yin was beaming after the race.
“The horse ran well last time but I didn’t believe he could win,” So said of his five-year-old’s first-up eighth last month.
“I tell you, at first I was talking with the owner and we thought about giving up because the horse had problems. We gave him a long break and we just cantered him and he broke down.
“His joints were really bad – all four joints, not only one. He needed time and luckily the horse improved.
“I’m happy today that he can win, but now he needs to improve again. He’s got a big heart and he tries hard.
“Even his first run he ran well – he was only beaten two lengths and for a new private purchase to win on their second start, it seems like he has potential and ability.”
Fun Together’s victory in race four stopped Triple Trio punters in their tracks, with a jackpot of over HK$24 million being carried over to next weekend’s meeting, while Not Usual Star’s race-nine success saw the Six Up pay north of HK$6 million.