Hong Kong Jockey Club
By Leo Schlink
Caspar Fownes hopes Straight Arron can lay the foundations for a bountiful campaign when the emerging staying star contests the HK$4.2 million G3 Celebration Cup Handicap (1400m) at Sha Tin on Sunday (24 September).
Winner of three of his past five starts, including the G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap (2400m) on 7 May, Straight Arron closed last season with a close fourth in the G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) behind Russian Emperor, Romantic Warrior and Five G Patch.
The gelding’s formline over extended trips has Fownes contemplating lofty conquests — and an accompanying rise from his current rating from 107 into elite territory of 120 and beyond — and the four-time Hong Kong champion trainer hopes Sunday’s pipe-opener will provide a strong launching pad.
“It will be nice to get him back to the races. Obviously, 1400m is short of his best trip. He had a nice trial at Happy Valley last Saturday (16 September) over 1200m and he finished off nicely,” Fownes said of the five-year-old.
“This Sunday, it’s a small field with only five other competitors, so we’ll be riding him quietly and hopefully seeing him take some ground of them late.
“I think 2000m will be his best distance but I’ll be expecting an eye-catching effort first-up even though it’s short.”
To be ridden by Vincent Ho, Straight Arron (125lb) will start from barrier two. His rivals are Beauty Joy (135lb), Healthy Happy (125lb), Circuit Stellar (123lb), Encountered (123lb) and The Golden Scenery (115lb).
While Fownes has relatively conservative expectations this weekend, he makes no secret of what Straight Arron — winner of the 2022 G3 Carbine Club Stakes (1600m) at Randwick Racecourse for Chris Waller and James McDonald — might potentially achieve.
“I think he can reach 120 (in the handicap ratings) if things go right. He’s 107 now, so it’s obviously a massive figure to get to but I believe he has what it takes to get to certainly get close to that figure,” Fownes said.
Frankie Lor is optimistic Healthy Happy’s liking for Sha Tin’s 1400m course will deliver the gelding’s first victory since 1 January 2022 when the now seven-year-old scored a narrow win in the G3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap over the course and distance.
“He’s good. Usually, he’s a horse I like to race fresh-up when he should be better. I trialled him two times in Conghua and both times he trialled well,” Lor said.
“His best distance should be 1400m and after this race I need to think about his next race because there are not too many 1400m races and he’s rated 107. I think a mile is still okay but 1400m is still the best distance.
“He’s a front-runner. He can lead or sit second or third and I think the small field is good for him.”
Healthy Happy will make his first competitive appearance since finishing third in the G3 Premier Cup Handicap (1400m) behind Beauty Eternal and Circuit Stellar on 25 June.
Sunday’s (24 September) 10-race card starts with the Class 4 HKU Libraries Handicap (1200m) at 1pm.