As Hot King Prawn crossed the line for a hard-fought victory in Sunday’s Jockey Club Sprint, many were quick to anoint Classique Legend as the Hong Kong Sprint winner in waiting.
The flashy grey beat a moderate field of sprinters and stopped the clock at 1:08.00 – a performance which saw overseas fixed-odds bookmakers slash Classique Legend’s Hong Kong Sprint quote from $2.0 to $1.75.
While many expect the Everest winner to simply roll into town and snare the HK$22 million contest, his trainer Caspar Fownes says it is not so straightforward.
“I am under the pump with him,” a matter-of-fact Fownes said, with the five-year-old still in quarantine until Tuesday morning.
“It’s not an ideal preparation. I have looked after him in quarantine because we were a little bit nervous with all that was going on and the feedback we were getting, so we just kept him in full work without doing any pace work.
“He has flown here so you have to give him a few days to recover from the flight, now he’s had one bit of light pace work.”
By the time December’s grand final rolls around, it will have been 58 days since Classique Legend’s slashing victory in the A$15 million Everest – hardly an ideal lead in to a race where he will probably start an odds-on favourite.
“Now he’s had a vaccination injection, so his bloods are going to be everywhere – we’ll back off him again,” Fownes said.
“We’ll take a blood profile again and if the readings are good, then I can start to put more pressure on him. He is subjected to an official barrier trial to get in, so we have to do that as well.
“Looking at all of that, everything is stacked against me a little bit. We know he has the ability, but we still have a task ahead of us.”
To put it simply, Fownes knows he has a star on his hands, but he can’t afford any setbacks in the lead-up to the Hong Kong Sprint in three weeks.
Another Boniface Ho Ka-kui horse presenting Fownes with no such problems is Southern Legend, who has proven age is no barrier.
The warhorse fronted up again on Sunday in the Group Two Jockey Club Mile to finish third behind Golden Sixty while carrying five extra pounds.
With nominations in both the Hong Kong Mile and Cup, Fownes and Ho have a decision on which path to take, but it is looking likely that the Mile will win out.
“He put in a huge run I thought, giving five pounds to those other horses. You have to be happy with that,” Fownes said.
“I have said it plenty of times, the winner [Golden Sixty] is quite special. You’d have to think at set weights in December, [Southern Legend] is looking at running in the first three the way he is going – he doesn’t seem to know his age with the form he is in.
“I will sit down with the owner and see how he pulls up and decide on what distance we want to run.
“We will look at what is coming here, he is versatile between the mile and 2,000m but at this stage my heart is saying keep him at a mile – even if we can get second prize money, it is huge.”