"We'll make an entry for the Hong Kong International Races with him," the handler said. "He's rated 97 but hopefully that'll change after the race on Wednesday."
Fownes knows Columbus County will need to lift his rating to around 110 or higher to warrant an invitation to the HK$95 million LONGINES Hong Kong International Races on 13 December, but his charge proved last season that he is a stayer on the rise, lifting his rating by 15 points to a mark of 97 across seven starts.
The Redwood gelding was one of the main protagonists for last season's BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m), posting three smart runner-up efforts before finishing a disappointing ninth in the blue riband to Golden Sixty. He closed out last term with a strong win, his first in Hong Kong, in an 1800m Class 2 at Sha Tin.
"I'm very happy with him, he's got a lovely draw (gate one) and he'll get his chance but he is obviously up against horses who are a little bit more race-fit than him," Fownes said.
The five-year-old kicks off his campaign against 11 opponents, including familiar foes from his age bracket in the likes of Reliable Team (131lb), Enjoying (128lb) and Amazing Beats (119lb). The New Zealand-bred will step away from gate one with three-time champion jockey Joao Moreira in the plate.
"He's done alright, his body weight is 1048 pounds, he's around the 1030-pound mark when normally he races so I'm happy with him first-up. I've got him where I want him and I'm sure he'll get a good run," Fownes said.
"He's shown us that he's the type of horse that can produce a big effort first-up as he did last season running behind Golden Sixty with some massive sectionals late over 1400 metres,
"The 1800 metres looks to be his trip for a first-up effort and he looks to the type of horse that'll get further and again I'm pretty confident he's a horse that will get above 110."
Columbus County finished third in the G2 Waikato Guineas (2000m) at Te Rapa racecourse pre-import. The winner of that race is now under the care of Jimmy Ting and is known as Hello Daddy, a Class 3 winner over the mile in Hong Kong, while fellow Fownes-trained Arrogant split the pair in second and also finished runner-up in the G1 Rosehill Guineas (2000m) to five-time G1 winner, The Autumn Sun.
Fownes has faith in Columbus County's ability to stay, suggesting a tilt at the HK$3.5 million G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap (2400m) might also be on the cards down the line.
"He's the type of horse that I'd certainly think would be very competitive in a Queen Mother Memorial Cup toward the end of the season," Fownes said.
The competitive field also features Star Shine (130lb), Insayshable (127lb), Enrichment (120lb), Tianchi Monster (119lb), French import Packing Waltham (119lb) and Amazing One Plus (125lb), who rocketed home from the rear on his Happy Valley debut last start for Danny Shum and Derek Leung.
"Amazing One Plus ran well last time. Before that he was a bit keen and didn't relax, that's why he couldn't finish," Leung said.
The five-year-old arrived in Hong Kong as an 89-rater and since then has had four starts. He won two Group 3 contests in the famous Aga Khan silks when trained in Ireland by Dermot Weld, and also placed fifth behind Masar in the 2018 G1 Derby at Epsom.
"We switched him to Happy Valley where the track is a bit softer - it's more comfortable for him and we took all the gear off, which relaxed him. He travelled smoothly and the pace was also pretty fast so it helped him to relax and that's how he finished stronger," Leung said.
Meanwhile, Fownes also has Naboo Star in the night's 'trophy' contest, the Class 3 LONGINES Cup Handicap (1650m). The gelding scored an impressive first-up win over the course and distance and this time will break from gate three against 11 others.
And the handler will saddle Whiskey Neat in section two of the Class 4 Amazing Star Handicap (1200m) gunning for a first Hong Kong win for the gelding after narrowly missing at his latest outing over the course and distance.
"He's getting close to a win, his three runs this prep have been good, a sixth, third and second – he's getting there, Fownes said.
The eye-catching brown gelding will break from gate seven for his 15th Hong Kong start and will have Moreira in the plate.
"I would have preferred a softer draw than barrier seven but we're going to try and adopt the same tactics – he'll roll forward to make his own luck and hopefully we can go one spot better," Fownes said.
Tornado Twist down in Class
Frankie Lor believes the drop to Class 3 will be just the tonic for Tornado Twist (133lb) as the Australian-bred shoots for his first win in over a year in Wednesday's penultimate contest, the first section of the Class 3 Speed Vision Handicap (1200m).
"I think now down in Class 3 he has a good chance. I have a good jockey booked to ride and barrier four is good," Lor said.
Fresh off a Sunday treble, Australian ace Zac Purton will take the reins aboard the Denman gelding and the pair will break from gate four among the field of 12, which also features Falcon Turbo (127lb), Island Shine (127lb), Wind N Grass (127lb), last-start winner Shamport (126lb) as well as Le Terroir (121lb).
The talented five-year-old won three out of his first four starts in Hong Kong when under the care of 11-time champion trainer John Size and added 30 points to his rating from his first four starts, but since then he has only managed one win from 17 starts.
"When John (Size) asked me to train this one, 'no problem', I said, he's always quite consistent but I think Class 2 is a little too difficult for him, so this should be much better for him," Lor said.
"Usually the Happy Valley the horses should be a little bit weaker than Sha Tin," Lor said.
The handler has been on fire through the month of October with eight wins including a treble at last week's midweek fixture.
Wednesday's nine-race card kicks off at 6.45pm with the Class 5 Sir John Handicap (1000m).