Southern Legend will take aim at Beauty Generation for a fourth time this term in Sunday’s G1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) with trainer Caspar Fownes doing all he can to find an edge, faced as he is with an outstanding champion for a rival.
“I’m going to tweak Southern Legend’s equipment this weekend,” Fownes said. “I’m going to put him in a pair of blinkers, just to see. It’s a small field - six runners - so we’ll see if we can get him right up on the speed and see what happens.
“If he doesn’t, if he comes out a bit tardy, we’ll ride him where he is. He’s versatile; he’s performed up on the speed, middle, and back, so the options are there.”
The gelding has previously worn a visor.
His chief opponent, Beauty Generation, is unbeaten - having looked untouchable - in his four races this term. In the two biggest, the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile and G2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Mile, Southern Legend was the best of Hong Kong’s rest, albeit three lengths and more behind.
Last time out, though, in the 1800m G3 January Cup Handicap at Happy Valley, Southern Legend was only sixth of 10 behind the low-weighted Simply Brilliant. Fownes is not discouraged by that defeat in a race free of Beauty Generation’s imposing presence.
“I was happy with the run: all the light-weight horses performed really well that night and we were an unlucky neck behind Time Warp who has won a couple of Group 1s, so we’re there.
“He just didn’t have the best of luck coming out of the gates. We wanted to have him quite handy that night and he just got shuffled back into an awkward spot. Douglas (Whyte) was lucky not to come down: he was in a bad position for 30 or 40 metres.
“He’s come out of that race very well,” Fownes continued. “He’s proven at the top level; he’s not far off them. You take Beauty Generation out and he’s there,”
Southern Legend and Zac Purton at Kranji, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Southern Legend’s efforts in chasing home Beauty Generation also include a third-placed run in last season’s G1 Champions Mile. That preceded an overseas victory in the SIN G1 Kranji Mile in Singapore and Fownes is set firm in a plan to take the six-year-old on his travels again, this time to Dubai.
“He has to have his vaccinations after this race and then it would be nice if we could get him there early February,” the handler said.
Fownes is keen to “mix and match” options, having entered the Australian import in the G1 Dubai Turf (1800m) and G2 Godolphin Mile (dirt) on the Dubai World Cup card, as well as four Carnival lead-up races on dirt and turf.
“There’s the option of the Firebreak Stakes on 14 February, the Zabeel Mile on the 21st, then either the Jebel Hatta or Burj Nahaar on 9 March and then the World Cup meeting,” he said.
“I want to try him on the dirt there, I really do. I want to give him one dirt run because if he takes to it and gets up on the speed and performs well on the surface he’s going to be competitive.
“He could have one dirt run,” Fownes continued. “If we need to we can switch him to the turf the run after. The options are available. He trials really well on this dirt at Sha Tin but it’s a totally different surface there.”
As to when Southern Legend will touch down in the UAE, Fownes said: “We’ll play it by ear. It depends on our flight schedules but he’s a tough horse, he likes getting to the races, he’s a brute. From that side of it, it wouldn’t bother us where we take him or how many runs he has because he just keeps improving through his prep.”
Sunday’s Stewards’ Cup is part of a Group 1 double-header along with the Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m), which sees Hong Kong’s big three speedsters, Mr Stunning, D B Pin and Beat The Clock clash again.