Champion trainer Caspar Fownes has made no secret of the fact his main aim for this season is to win a third Hong Kong Derby and he is confident that Senor Toba will prove himself worthy of his place in the prestigious race after he runs in the Classic Cup at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Senor Toba was forced to miss an intended engagement earlier this month with a minor leg injury and Fownes feels he has the potential to improve for his Classic Cup run.
“He’ll be very competitive but he’ll be at his best for the Derby,” Fownes said. “He missed one race that was part of a programme that I’d planned for him, so the slight improvement in fitness from this next race will always be there.
“I’m happy, the horse is in great form and he looks great. I’ve had no hassles with him, so I’m looking forward to him going to the races.”
While Fownes is confident that Senor Toba will be fit enough to do himself justice in the Classic Cup, he feels there is still the opportunity to learn more about the stayer after this run.
“He’s the sort of horse we can always tweak with his equipment,” Fownes said. “He’s just a little bit dumb coming out of the gates, he’s not sharp and he’s missing it by a length and a bit, which is not ideal.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re drawn wide, then it’s not a problem, but if you draw a good gate you don’t want to be giving up that extra two or three lengths. But he is the type of horse who can overcome that as he’s pretty smart.”
Fownes won the Derby with Sky Darci last year and Super Satin in 2010 and thinks Senor Toba is at the very least on an equal footing with them at this stage of his career.
“It’s hard to compare them because we stretched the others out in distance and they got the job done, but Senor Toba is just going to eat up the distance,” Fownes said. “He’s probably going to be at his best at 2,400m.
“I think he’s the real deal, I really believe that. He gives me the presence of a horse that’s just quality and he’s still raw.
“I really hope I can get the job done with him and win the Derby this year because he’s really good and I know he’s just going to keep improving into his frame because he’s still developing. He’s an exciting horse to be associated with going forward because I really feel he’s going to get to 120 points no problem.”
It’s clear that Senor Toba carries most of the stable confidence into this weekend’s Classic Cup but Fownes is expecting a better performance from Rocket Spade, who was hampered on a couple of occasions before finishing tenth in the Classic Mile last month.
“They have both got something to give and this race will tell us exactly where we are leading into the Derby,” Fownes said.
“Rocket Spade is a big colt and he was off for a long time between runs from New Zealand into Hong Kong. He’s getting there now fitness-wise and again my target is the Derby this year so we’ll be trying our best to get that job done.”
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