The Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile (HK-I) has been the long-range target for Green Birdie since early in the year, but a sizzling first-up victory against the sprinters in the Oct. 25 group III Premier Bowl at Sha Tin might have trainer Caspar Fownes reconsidering his position.
Green Birdie, hero of the Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby Trial at 1,800 meters in the spring, resumed from a spell against the best-available sprinters at 1,200 meters and the New Zealand-bred Catbird gelding left them all gasping with his signature finishing burst.
Starting at odds of 14-1, Green Birdie raced right up to Fownes’ expectations and possibly beyond them, with a dominating victory that even had jockey Olivier Doleuze questioning the nature of the ultimate goal.
“I think Green Birdie should be set for the Sprint,” Doleuze declared. “He has beaten all the best sprinters today, and I’m sure he could handle the overseas ones as well.”
But the big smile on the Frenchman’s face belied his true agenda, to avoid a potential clash with Good Ba Ba in the upcoming feature mile races.
The intention has been for Green Birdie to run next in the International Mile Trial Nov. 23, but yesterday’s result gives Fownes an opportunity to take the middle ground and delay the longer-term commitment.
“One possibility for us is to run him in the Sprint Trial rather than the Mile Trial the same day,” the trainer said. “If he can do the same thing to them in the Sprint Trial, then that will give us the chance to reconsider in favor of the (Hong Kong) Sprint.
“But if this first-up race takes the edge off him, and he shows he wants further, we can head to the Hong Kong Mile as originally planned.”
Green Birdie is raced by Roger Li Ka-chun, who won the Sha Tin Mile Trophy on this day two years ago with Green Treasure, also trained by Fownes.
The Premier Bowl only has a three-year history but has quickly stamped its influence as a guide to the Hong Kong Sprint. In its second running, 2006, Absolute Champion won the race before completing the double in December, while last year’s winner Royal Delight eventually took third place in the big one behind Sacred Kingdom and Absolute Champion.
Down Town, handled by Terry Wong Chi-wai, ran a cracking race for second at his first start since June and confirmed his status as one of the most genuine and versatile gallopers in town.
Tchaikovsky raced outside the leader and kept on gamely to finish third, ahead of the late-closing Dim Sum.
Enthused, bidding for a feature hat-trick, ran boldly for fifth under the steadier of 130 pounds, but jockey Douglas Whyte was unable to get in any closer than three wide, without cover, from barrier eight. The Centaine gelding will lose no favor for the upcoming feature races on that display.
Medic Power resumed from a spell with a respectable sixth, but it was still a result that disappointed his rider.
“I went back from the barrier (12) and was able to find the fence,” jockey Brett Prebble began. “He travelled nicely, and I got onto Down Town’s back at the top of the straight. When he went through, I really thought he would pick up and win the race, but he was a bit disappointing in the run home.”
The major disappointment of the race was former New Zealand group I winner Nightlign, trained by Almond Lee Yee-tat. Heavily-bet Nightlign, which firmed in from $53 to start $30 favorite, was given the run of the race by Howard Cheng Yue-tin but after peeling into the clear at the top of the straight, was unable to quicken and labored home into 12th spot, beaten five lengths.
Stewards interviewed both Lee and Cheng after the race, but neither the questioning nor a veterinary inspection threw any light on the below-par performance.