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Sky Darci snares Lion Rock Trophy Handicap in a thriller as Fownes claims a treble

May 31, 2021, 10:56:02 AM

Caspar Fownes reclaimed the trainers' championship lead and celebrated the triumphant race-track comeback of BMW Hong Kong Derby winner Sky Darci in one fell swoop at Sha Tin on Sunday with a critical triple capped by G3 Lion Rock Trophy Handicap honours (1600m) (30 May).

Fownes, who trailed John Size by two wins into the round, came back to the top – 66-65 – with a three-timer, leaving the 2020/21 championship on a knife's edge with 12 meetings remaining.

Vincent Ho closed the meeting in style on David Hayes' newcomer Naboo Attack, who made light of his 1360lb size to collect a HK$1 million High Achievement Bonus on debut, capping off a very barren month with a four-timer.

Sky Darci's comeback after a 10-week sabbatical was the highlight for Fownes, resulting in a short head triumph over fellow four-year-old Health Happy. Not Usual Talent finished third, one and three-quarter lengths behind.

“On paper, it appeared to be a good return race for him, with 115 pounds on his back and a beautiful soft draw (barrier three). He landed exactly where we expected him to, just relaxed and came out, and you can see what he's got,” Fownes said after Sky Darci survived a hard assault from Healthy Happy, who lifted heroically after being topped by the winner.

“Obviously, the second horse (Healthy Happy) is a horse we respected coming into the race because we didn't believe there would be much pace, and he gave us quite a worry in the final 100m.

“The second horse is a nice horse. He's probably one of them who will go along with it.

“At the end of the day, we're thrilled to have him back from the Derby. There is constant pressure on you to get these horses to return and perform.”

Sky Darci's recent victory opens up a slew of long-term alternatives for Fownes beyond a probable start in the G3 Premier Cup Handicap (1400m) — including a shot at the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) in December.

“It appears like we will have something to deal with in December. He's a nice horse with another length and a half to two lengths in him over the next 12 months. If he can do it, he'll be a serious and proper horse,” Fownes remarked, implying a route that avoids a mile-long showdown with Golden Sixty.

“In my perspective, he's a sprinter-miler, and he's showing us that, so we'll just try to choose the best possibilities and avoid the champs.

“He'll return for a 1200 meter run early in the (2021/22) season, so we'll see how he goes there. He's versatile, and with a couple of months of summer vacation under his belt, he should be a larger and better horse.”

Sky Darci might face stablemate Sky Field in the G3 Premier Cup, according to Fownes.

“There's a fair chance (he'll run), but it all depends on how he pulls up. Sky Field will also be there, so it'll be interesting to see them compete if I go that path.

“We'll just see how he pulls up, the weather is getting rather warm now, but if he's well, eats well, and has a spring in his step, there's no reason he can't have one more race,” Fownes said.

Fownes surpassed Size with victories in Green Envy and Tailor Made.

“It's alive (hopes of winning the title); there's a long way to go, but all I can do is my best. I'm confident John will continue to produce winners, and I'll do the same. “All I can give is my all, and I am giving it,” Fownes added.

Sky Darci, who won the BMW Hong Kong Derby a week after Panfield won the G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m), delighted Moreira with his tenacity by winning for the eighth time in 13 attempts.

“He won him over with his heart. “He understands what his role is out there,” stated the Brazilian.

“The other horse challenged him and wouldn't back down. Healthy Happy was coming back at him, and I could tell he was giving it his all. He's a great horse.

“It was exactly what we wanted, and it's no surprise to me that he didn't win by a larger margin since we have such great regard for the other horse.”

After a spectacular day, Ho moved up to fourth in the jockeys' championship, increasing his total to 54, after Joao Moreira (135), Zac Purton (113), and Karis Teetan (67).

Ho won the Class 2 Amah Rock Handicap aboard Tailor Made for Fownes before completing a solid double aboard Light Of Wanshi and Copartner Ambition for Chris So and lastly Naboo Attack (1200m).

The massively-built Naboo Attack, winner of five races in Australia as Command 'N' Conquer, received a HK$1 million High Achievement Bonus for winning a Class 2 race or higher before turning five.

Enzemble by Manfred Man produced a boilover at 57/1 in the Class 3 Piper's Hill Handicap (2000m) for Matthew Poon, before Speedy Mouse by Frankie Lor raced to a comfortable victory in the second part of the Class 3 Eagle's Nest Handicap (1200m) for Zac Purton.

Dublin Star broke E Star's Class 3 1200 metre record with a 1m 8.29s gallop to win the opening section of the Eagle's Nest Handicap under Karis Teetan.

Keith Yeung halted a 187-ride out streak to win his ninth race of the season in the Class 3 Hung Mui Kuk Handicap for Ricky Yiu (1400m).

On Wednesday, racing in Hong Kong resumes at Happy Valley (2 June).