By Hans Ebert

Long term friendships in horse racing are a rarity. Even non starters. At least they are in Hong Kong where many fair weather friends have flown in, taken but never given back, and then flown the coop.

Then again, guess one can say the same thing about life.

It was Douglas Whyte who mentioned to me over a decade ago, that in horse racing, one can count those who can be trusted on one hand- minus a few fingers.

Having lunch with Caspar Fownes on Wednesday, I was reminded of this when he mentioned how he and I can go a long time without seeing each other. But how when we do meet, we continue without skipping a beat. This has to do with words like trust, loyalty, honesty, having a sense of humour and knowing what was then, what is now and having each other’s backs.

When finding out that Cas had trained his five hundredth winner at the city track later that night when Explosive Witness with Alexis Badel aboard won the seventh race, as his compadre, brother and amigo, it made me happy for him.

Right now, he’s leading the Trainers championship and, sure, there’s a long way to go. But there’s not just a new spring in his step these days, Caspar Fownes knows he can go the distance and win his third Hong Kong Trainers championship.

His stable is today a magnet for better and newer horses than he’s had in years. And though it might be tough to make the decision to slowly ease out the old and make way for the new, he still puts as much effort into training a horse for a Group race as he would for one of his runners in the lower classes.

Behind all the whooping it up when winning and breaking into a spontaneous victory dance, Cas is simply happy to win- for the owners, the jockeys involved and his staff. And most definitely for his late Dad and former trainer Gentleman Lawrie Fownes.

As he was quoted as saying after his win number 500, “This is what the game is about. Doesn’t matter if it’s a Class 5 or Group 1, I just love it. I’m passionate and I want to give it everything”.

Later, talking about the empty Beer Garden and the lack of fans on course, he added, “More than anything, I miss the fans, but we’ve just got to eat a bit of humble pie now and let things settle and get Hong Kong back on track. The Jockey Club has done an amazing job to keep racing going and long may it continue”.

The key takeaway for me from all this is Cas talking about getting this city back on its feet.

We both might not have been born here, but we’re darn proud to be Hong Kong boys.

We’ve grown up here. We went to school here. We married here. We’ve lived almost our entire lives here.

We have gone through the highs and lows of what life has thrown our way. We’re street smart enough to know never show the poker hands we might be holding.

It’s not unlike the life lessons learned by another Hong Kong boy in champion trainer Tony Cruz.

Hell, we’ve seen it all. We speak and understand the language. We know when to listen and hear the subtext to what’s really being said. We’ve seen people come and go. We may not have all the answers, but we know how it all works.

From a horse racing point of view, both trainers will always throw their support behind the local boys. We’ve seen it in how Tony guided the career of Matthew Chadwick when he was a talented apprentice.

With Cas, he’s always stayed loyal to the former apprentice once indentured to him and who is today, a Group winning jockey in Vincent Ho.

He’s never veered from being a support system and head of the cheerleading squad of this Made In Hong Kong talent.

This season, he helped Keith Yeung ride a winner when the local rider desperately needed one to revive confidence in himself.

He’s also helped those riders new to Hong Kong and going through those familiar barren spells.

Sometimes I feel that Caspar doesn’t receive his rightful dues. He’s more than the “King Of The Valley”. How much longer is this old warhorse going to be trotted out? It’s like being pummelled by the same old punch line in a running gag. Please make it go away. Someone.

Caspar Fownes is right up there with the other big name trainers in Hong Kong. He’s also far more interesting- and that’s something personal. If he were training outside of Hong Kong, well, who knows?

Right now, he’s very much part of Hong Kong racing. He’s also very much part of its future. And as part of its future, he and others like Francis Lui and Frankie Lor should be promoted and marketed better. And in new ways.

The tiresome old narrative must change. It makes for very boring reading.

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