After partnering Japanese raiders in the past four Hong Kong Vases, Joao Moreira will put his faith in a local horse in 2020 after committing to the ride aboard Columbus County on international day next month.
The Caspar Fownes-trained Columbus County stormed home for third under Vincent Ho Chak-yiu in Sunday’s Group Two Jockey Club Cup (2,000m) and Moreira believes he is ready for the step-up to Group One company.
“He was great, I was very impressed with the run so I’m happy to be taking over the reins
again,” he said.
“If he does win the race it’s not going to be a surprise to me. Of course Exultant will be the hot favourite and he deserves that, but Columbus County is a horse on the up and we are yet to see his best.”
Last with 500m left to run on the weekend, Columbus County hit the line nicely to finish two lengths behind Moreira aboard winner Furore, with reigning Horse of the Year Exultant in second.
The Brazilian knows a thing or two about winning the Vase, saluting aboard Glory Vase last year and Satono Crown in 2016, and will enter the 2,400m contest with confidence yet again.
“The way he finished off the race on the weekend, if he does get a smooth run – as he did on the weekend – he might be the one coming to run them down,” he said.
Moreira now has three of his four Group One rides locked away, with Columbus County following Hot King Prawn (Sprint) and Furore (Cup), with the Magic Man mulling over a handful of options for the Mile.
Fownes has been confident Columbus County would make it to the Longines Hong Kong International Races since the five-year-old’s dashing Class Two win at Happy Valley under Moreira last month.
The Group Two Waikato Guineas (2,000m) third placegetter will step-up to 2,400m for the first time in his career and the in-form trainer believes the trip will be ideal for the gelding.
“Even though he’s not the biggest of horses, he’s got a big heart and I think the extra 400m will suit him,” Fownes said.
“He might not be there just yet but I’m very happy with that effort on the weekend, he’s proven to us that he’s right up there with the top boys.”
Fownes and Moreira have combined for 13 winners this season and team up three times at Happy Valley on Wednesday night, joining forces with Royal Racer and last-start winners Nunchuks and The Rock.
Four-year-old British import The Rock makes his debut at the city circuit in the Class Three Sham Tseng Handicap (1,650m) after a win and two placings from four starts at Sha Tin.
After saluting at Sha Tin in September, the gelding had a freshen-up before winning a trial at the city circuit earlier this month.
“If Caspar has put him at Happy Valley, then he is confident he is going to be able to produce his best there,” Moreira said. “Based on his trial the other day I would say the city track will be no problem for him.”