Michael Lee – Singapore Turf Club
Caspar Fownes would feel a bit of pressure as the trainer of last year’s Kranji Mile winner Southern Legend returning for another dose.
The three-time Hong Kong champion trainer rightly does so, but the seasoned Singapore visitor in him still looked his usual cool and jocular self as he walked back with the title defender after his routine spin around Kranji on Tuesday morning.
An old hand at Kranji, the 51-year-old is on record the overseas trainer who has clocked the most miles here, and more pointedly, the most wins. He was at his 10th visit, having hit bullseye four times – three KrisFlyer International Sprints with Green Birdie (2010) and Lucky Nine (2013 and 2014) and Southern Legend at that inaugural Kranji Mile.
Besides having been there and done that, Fownes, the son of late Hong Kong trainer Lawrie Fownes, is actually enjoying the fact that the Not A Single Doubt six-year-old might not even start favourite in the $1.5 million Group 1 showpiece this Saturday.
Ironically, the one whispered as the most likely nemesis to his back-to-back mission is from his own turf, but with strong Singapore ties – Singapore Sling.
Fownes was at Sha Tin when the South African-bred son of Philanthropist, who has actually not scored since February 2018, ran up a close second to the near-invincible Beauty Generation in the Group 1 Champions Mile (1600m) just over three weeks ago.
His fellow Hong Kong expatriate trainer Tony Millard may hold the ace this year – the South African took silver with Horse Of Fortune at their first Kranji visit last May – but Fownes still has faith in his charge even if he has not greeted the judge since the Kranji Mile.
He did run second twice (in one Group 1 and Group 2 race) and third twice (two Group 1 races) in eight starts since the Kranji Mile win. At his last start, he ran sixth to Japanese champion mare Almond Eye in the Group 1 Dubai Turf (1800m) at the end of March – the one run that did throw a bit of a dampener.
“It was a bit disappointing. I thought he’d run in the first four, he ran sixth,” said Fownes.
“He had no excuse, he had a good gate, but he just plugged away. He had no spark.
“I’ve given him a freshen-up and I’ve decided to take the visor off. He’ll wear no equipment this time.
“He trialled on Friday without the visor and he went good. He looked good this morning, but this year, we’re happy to be the second pick, it takes the pressure off.
“If Singapore Sling repeats his last run, he’ll be hard to beat. His second place to Beauty Generation in the Champions Mile was very, very good.”
On his love story with Singapore and its invitational races, Fownes was delighted to be back, even if this time, he wasn’t too sure if he’d get invited again.
“We always thought we’d come back after he won. But we had to get invited first, and it’s great to see the race is back as we weren’t sure if it would be,” he said.
“Obviously, I’ve had a lot of success here and it’d be lovely to go back-to-back. I have a lot of respect for the local horses as they have the home advantage, but my horse can bounce back, he’s got heart.”
Fownes will still be around on Wednesday morning to watch Southern Legend gallop before flying back to Hong Kong later to catch the Happy Valley meeting at night. He will then be back for a last look at his work on Friday morning before the big day the next day.
Whether he is at the receiving end of a fifth Singapore silverware or not, there is every chance Fownes will still rock up again.
Fownes actually entered the up-and-coming Rise High alongside Southern Legend, but he was not selected. He may even have a few more waiting in the wings, including one who is not even at his yard – yet.
“Rise High is a nice horse, but maybe we can try again next year,” said Fownes.
“Mr Boniface Ho (owner of Southern Legend) also has a very good horse called Classique Legend in Australia.
“He’s with Les Bridge and has won three from four, including the Group 2 Arrowfield Sprint (1200m). He will run in The Everest in October.
“The plan is to send him up to Hong Kong after that, but they will have to make a decision first.
“He’s also by Not A Single Doubt and is more of a sprinter now but he could also become a sprinter-miler when he is a five-year-old.”