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Columbus sets sail on easiest voyage since April 2021 with novice navigator Wong

Ellis Wong Chi-wang will ride the highest-rated horse of his career at Sha Tin on Saturday when the apprentice jockey partners Columbus County for his boss, Caspar Fownes, in the seven-year-old galloper’s first race outside Group class since April 2021.

Columbus County, the two-time elite-level placegetter whose Hong Kong rating peaked at 114, has contested 15 consecutive black-type events since the outside gate scuppered his chance in a Class One race over 2,000m at Sha Tin two years and two months ago.

“I’ve got the 10-pound boy on him, so that’ll help him. It’s a massive drop in class – it’s not even a Class One, it’s a Class Two – so it’s going to be a good ride for the kid,” said Fownes of Columbus County and Wong teaming up from barrier eight in the card-closing Pok Fu Lam Reservoir Road Handicap (1,800m).

Fownes expected Columbus County to build on his fourth in the Group Three Queen Mother Memorial Cup (2,400m) with a positive performance in the Group One Champions & Chater Cup over the same trip, the distance over which he got within half a length of winning at the highest level two seasons ago.

Unfortunately, Columbus County finished a 14-length last behind Russian Emperor, and the only excuse for his disappointing run was what his rider, Matthew Chadwick, told Fownes in the unsaddling enclosure.

“Matthew said everything was off the rail, so he saw daylight the whole way and was on the chewy,” said Fownes of Columbus County’s last-start flop.

“He’s got no excuse on the weekend. Yeah, he’s coming back three furlongs, but he’s a quality horse, and he should show something with the 10-pound claim.”

Fownes sent Columbus County to his home away from home, Conghua, two days after the Champions & Chater Cup, and the veteran galloper returned to Sha Tin on Wednesday ahead of his first Class Two contest since Joao Moreira steered him to his emphatic victory over 1,800m at Happy Valley in October 2020.

“Sha Tin is too hard for him. He enjoys getting on the grass there. He speaks good Mandarin now,” said Fownes of Columbus County, who has been from Hong Kong to Conghua and back 20 times since he joined Fownes from Lauren Brennan soon after he finished a short-neck third in the 2019 Group Two Waikato Guineas (2,000m).

Fownes, who will saddle two of the Pok Fu Lam Reservoir Road Handicap runners – Happy Valley specialist Nearly Fine goes around under Vincent Ho Chak-yiu – thinks Saturday’s final event is a strong race, with the four-time Hong Kong champion trainer particularly respectful of the top weight, Tuchel.

“Columbus County gets in well, but Tuchel goes really good. He’s going to be hard to beat. He’s definitely going to be a 110 horse next season,” said Fownes.

Like Columbus County, Tuchel is a New Zealand-bred son of Redwood, although the Classic Mile and Derby (2,000m) runner-up arrived in the city as an unraced product of the Price Bloodstock system.


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