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Last season’s champion trainer Caspar Fownes unleashes Hong Kong Derby hope Senor Toba at Sha Tin on Thursday.

Hot off the heels of Zebrowski’s victory in the Group Three Centenary Vase last weekend, Fownes is confident that the Class Two Fat Choi Handicap (1,800m) is the right choice of race for his up-and-coming stayer.

“It’s all in his programme to maintain his fitness and to keep him sharp and it looked a nice race on the programme,” Fownes said.

Senor Toba won impressively in his last start over 2,000m at the end of December and Fownes is confident that he made the right decision to bypass the Classic Mile.

“I didn’t want to drop him back to the mile,” Fownes said. “I think the horses in the Classic Mile are really good at that distance but when they get to 2,000m it’s going to be a different ballgame.

“What’s the use of running him there to see him running home into sixth or seventh? I’d rather give him a different line of approach and then he’ll certainly be going to the Classic Cup.”

Fownes was an interested spectator of the Classic Mile last weekend and not just because his own Rocket Spade finished tenth in the race. The trainer was keen to cast his eye over some of Senor Toba’s future opponents and wants to challenge them over a shorter trip in advance of the Derby.

“You want to see them against the horses that are going to run in the Derby over one furlong less,” Fownes said.

“For me, I always want to have one feel with them [in the four-year-old series] to see exactly how competitive they are and what sort of racing pattern they are going to be at. If you’re going to make a mistake, you make it [in the Classic Cup] and then get it right for the Derby.”

Senor Toba will again be partnered by Joao Moreira and the grey may now be at the top of the Brazilian rider’s list of potential partners in the Hong Kong Derby after the disappointing run of Master Delight in the Classic Mile.

 Although Fownes and Moreira may be looking ahead to bigger targets for Senor Toba, Thursday’s race does not look a free hit for Senor Toba thanks to the presence of the topweight Beluga.

A five-time winner, the David Hall-trained five-year-old ran out an impressive winner of the Class Two Chek Keng Handicap (1,600m) last month in which he beat a stack of Classic Mile runners, including Ima Single Man, The Irishman and Master Delight.

Hall will be holding high hopes that Beluga can prevail again and also has chances elsewhere on the card, with runners in eight of the 11 Sha Tin contests on Thursday.

The Australian trainer’s most notable chance of adding to his 13 winners this season is Flying Ace in the Class Three Great Profits Handicap (1,200m).

A winner of both his starts, Flying Ace makes his first start in Class Three company after being raised eight pounds for his win at Sha Tin last month but holds a realistic opportunity of completing the hat-trick under Matthew Poon Ming-fai.