Revitalised by a brief spell, emerging talent Columbus County will throw down the gauntlet to Hong Kong’s premier stayers in the Group 3 Centenary Vase Handicap (1800m) at Sha Tin on Sunday (31 January) as Caspar Fownes plots an ambitious path.
Freshened since a brave third to Ireland’s Mogul in the Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) on 13 December, Columbus County will face a select group of rivals on Sunday, including the Tony Cruz triumvirate of Exultant, Furore and Time Warp.
While Fownes expects the five-year-old to benefit from the outing, he is confident Columbus County will acquit himself well after returning to handicap conditions from weight-for-age.
“He’s done really well, he’s had a little freshen up in Conghua, he’s back in Hong Kong now,” Fownes said.
“Obviously coming back to handicap conditions should be in his favour even though we’re dropping in distance.
“He’s taking on the best stayers in Hong Kong but he’s getting weight off them so he should run a nice race.
“He should be finishing off nicely.”
Columbus County carried 126lbs when third to Mogul, widely regarded as Aidan O’Brien’s next international star, while finishing half a length astern of Hong Kong champion Exultant.
The handicap conditions of the Centenary Vase has Exultant rising to 133lbs under Zac Purton, while Columbus County will drop to 119lbs for Christophe Soumillon.
Fownes is convinced Columbus County is still a work in progress but was greatly heartened by the son of Redwood’s seamless progression from Class 2 victory over 1800m at Happy Valley in October to a Group 1 international placing in December.
“It was outstanding,” Fownes said. “He’s a horse that’s 12 months away (from fulfilling his potential) so we’ll see him at his best at the end of this year.
“Towards the end of our season, when we get a 2400m (race), he’ll be quite competitive so we can hopefully snag one of those nice 2400m races.
“After Sunday’s race, he goes to the Gold Cup (Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup over 2000m on 21 February) and then he ticks over and we then just find a race for him until he goes to the (Group 1) QEII Cup (25 April) and then the (Group 1 Standard Chartered) Champions & Chater Cup (on 23 May).
“We’re looking forward to getting him out to 2400m.”
Fownes continues to lead the 2020/21 trainers’ premiership with 39 wins, four ahead of 11-time champion John Size, who has produced a stunning 11 winners from his past 34 runners in a remarkable mid-season surge.