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Panfield to take ‘weakest’ HKIR option, Fownes’ stars close to return

Which race Panfield contests at December’s Hong Kong International Races will depend on the opposition, with trainer Tony Millard saying both the Cup (2,000m) and the Vase (2,400m) are on the table.

Both races have a history of attracting strong overseas participation and Millard will wait and see which raiders from the likes of Japan and the United Kingdom are likely to make the trip before committing.

“Whichever is the weakest, that’s where we’re going to go,” said Millard, confirming Panfield will begin his campaign in the Group Two Sha Tin Trophy (1,600m) on October 17. “I’m not sure how many runs he’ll have before HKIR, maybe two or three.”

Karis Teetan was in the saddle as Hong Kong’s most recent Group One winner returned to the trials on Tuesday morning, with May’s Champions & Chater Cup victor building nicely into his work and finishing strongly over the top of his rivals over a mile on the turf.

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“It was his first trial and he seems like he’s had a good holiday and he enjoyed that piece of work today,” the Mauritian jockey said.

“I did well on him last season and I’m looking forward to riding him again this season, he’s definitely a physically and mentally better horse and we’re looking forward to getting him to the races.

“He’s improved a lot, we are very happy with him. The Japanese will make it hard for us at HKIR but I definitely think Panfield is one who can challenge them because he’s a big, strong galloper and he maintains it all the way.”

Also having their first trials of the season were Caspar Fownes-trained pair Sky Darci and Southern Legend, as well as Douglas Whyte’s Russian Emperor.

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Fownes expects last year’s Hong Kong Derby winner Sky Darci to kick off in the Group Three Celebration Cup (1,400m) on September 26, while the indefatigable Southern Legend is a chance to join him.

“[Southern Legend] trialled all right. I wasn’t expecting too much. He has summered extremely well and stuck on a bit of beef, like his trainer. He’s just coming along,” Fownes said.

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“At this stage, I might run him at the end of the month but I might skip that and go a bit later, just depending on how he pulls up.

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“Like the others, [Sky Darci has] summered well and he’ll be at his peak fitness when it counts. Having said that, he’ll still be competitive in the earlier races but they’re all going to be targeted to be thriving in late November and mid-December.”

Sky Darci (left) wins the Hong Kong Derby from Russian Emperor (middle) in March.

Russian Emperor trialled quietly and is another likely to begin his preparation in the Celebration Cup on Sunday week.

After running second in the Classic Cup (1,800m) and the Derby (2,000m) last season, Russian Emperor was sixth in the Champions & Chater Cup and Whyte is leaning towards the Hong Kong Cup on international day.

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“I’m possibly looking towards the Cup, personally I don’t think he stays the 2,400m and I think his best distance is between 1,800m and 2,000m,” he said.

“He wasn’t there to win the trial by any means but he held his own. He was just there to have a hit-out, he hadn’t been on the track for a while.”

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