David Morgan

Chief Journalist


Fownes has a rare Japan ambition for Senor Toba

The Tenno Sho Spring could be on the agenda for Casper Fownes' grey stayer if he shows up well against his Japanese rivals in the Hong Kong Vase.

Caspar Fownes could be adding extra stamps to his well-travelled passport in the coming months but it will all depend on how well the trainer’s Senor Toba competes in the G1 Hong Kong Vase on December 11. 

The G1 Dubai Sheema Classic over 2410 metres would be an obvious option should the grey shake up the likes of Glory Vase and Win Marilyn at Sha Tin, but Fownes is just as keen to put himself in the rare position of sending a Hong Kong-trained galloper to take on Japan’s best stayers in the G1 Tenno Sho Spring over 3200 metres at Kyoto in the spring; perhaps also the 2200-metre G1 Takarazuka Kinen.

“We’d look at the Dubai race, there’s a lot of money on offer there, but then we’d look at Japan,” he told Asian Racing Report. “This horse will be even better getting up to two miles, there are options, we’ll look at whatever is a solid race and there are a couple of good staying events in Japan to look at. The Vase will tell us if we can be competitive and fight with them.

“He’s going to eat up the ground over a mile and a half. This is the race we’ve set him for and taking on those really good overseas raiders at this distance is a great gauge to see where we are. I’m very hopeful we can fight with them and if we can do that, well, then we’ve got a horse that we can travel with.”


Trainer Casper Fownes. (Photo by HKJC)

Fownes has enjoyed successes overseas in the past with stable stars Lucky Nine, Green Birdie and Southern Legend but has not ventured offshore with a horse since the last-named won his second Kranji Mile in Singapore in May 2019. The only Hong Kong runners offshore in the interim have been King’s Shield and Computer Patch in Korea three months ago, while the city’s champion Golden Sixty backed down from a planned run in the G1 Yasuda Kinen at Tokyo in June.   

But Hong Kong is now advancing through the initial phase of a slow exit from more than two years of strict Covid measures – face masks, polymerase chain reaction tests and rapid antigen tests are still a way of life – and Fownes is keen to get back on the road. When he does, it will no doubt give his son Ryan Fownes – involved in the stable’s set-up nowadays – valuable experience travelling horses to major events.  

Hong Kong’s own major event a week Sunday will be a test for Hong Kong’s small cohort of high-class stayers. Sprinters and milers dominate the programme, the longest race distance on the calendar is 2400 metres and the Vase is one of only three of those in the entire campaign. The city’s stayer ranks have long been slim but in recent seasons they have thinned to the skinnier side of lean as the overall horse population has dipped, shallowing out the depth in the higher classes across the board.

This year’s Hong Kong Vase has only three Hong Kong-trained runners and Senor Toba is the highest rated of those on a mark of 113.

“We know in Hong Kong that he’s up to this level, so we’ll see if he can show it against the raiders, because when they come in, they’ve just had control of the Vase for the last 15 or 20 years,” Fownes continued.

Stay Gold and Yutaka Take outgun Ekraar and Frankie Dettori to win the 2001 Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin. (Photo by Getty Images)

In fact, a Hong Kong horse has won the Vase on just three occasions since its inception in 1994: Indigenous (1998), Dominant (2013) and Exultant (2018).

But, putting the Japanese aside, the Irish, German and French contenders in this year’s Vase lack the star quality of pre-Covid editions. The Australian import’s jockey Vincent Ho believes ‘he’s a top four chance this year’ given the absence of high-ranking Europeans.   

Yet there are still enough Japanese and European Group 1 form lines on display in the race to give Fownes a firm indication of whether or not he needs to have his passport ready for a foreign assignment. 



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