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  • Writer's pictureAlan Aitken

It's a new season but Size still fits the bill

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

It was an unusual season for John Size in 2022-23 but he finally cracked George Moore's all-time record for title wins, after being marooned on a tally of eleven for three seasons, and he presents as the nominal favourite again this term.

Size's twelfth championship saw him with one of the best starts to any of his seasons -10 winners to the end of October - and, even more remarkably, he brushed home with 4 wins on the last day to land 8 victories in July, a personal best for a month in which he has had only 41 winners in his entire career.

Overall, there was a real consistency to his season, which usually looks heavily loaded through midseason with tails at either end when we look at a graph of his career win averages month by month (pictured).

The last time that Size broke a three-year drought to win a title, he strung four together but whether than can happen again is a real query.

Times have changed great deal since Size won the title in his first season 21 years ago, landing 58 wins in a season of 674 races. The runner-up, Ivan Allan sent out 182 more runners than Size, whose 291 starters was one of the lowest of that season across all yards.

In his following championships, Size certainly sent out a lot more runners than year 1 but has rarely been the leading trainer by starters. That changed last season, with his 662 runners standing out, 46 more than Frankie Lor.

While that helps the numbers game of being champion trainer in that season, a busy time for his string can have some impact on any trainer’s ability to follow up in the next campaign with a team which can find itself somewhat higher in the handicaps.

By another metric, Size’s stable numbers were at the top of the charts, too.

Although Hong Kong trainers are nowadays limited to 70 horses in the yard, with various comings and goings during the season they will start more than that – at least the leading trainers will.

Frankie Lor had the use of 78 individual horses, so he gave himself every chance in the numbers game.

Size was the only trainer to land more wins than he had horses, but Manfred Man had a great season, even away from Lucky Sweynesse, winning 44 races with only 59 horses.

Still, Size has proven a master at recycling his team for the next campaign as 12 championships in 22 attempts shows, he is rarely out of the top two at the end of the season and probably deserves to be a 1.9 favourite every September.

If he is to be beaten, Frankie Lor has gone 65, 65, 44, 65, 90, 65 in his six seasons, so he figures to land somewhere from 60 to 70 wins on average and keeps himself in the picture as a threat.

Former champions Tony Cruz and Caspar Fownes are due to have a good year though it’s worth noting that Cruz, who was a perennial contender for many years has missed the first four in two of the last three seasons.

For Fownes, his team has a balanced and eerily threatening look - plenty of runners who have not been over exposed and there are some wins even in the ones we know well, but the problem remains the same one that has held him back many times – he ranked only 12th amongst the trainers last season away from his happy hunting ground at Happy Valley and was even pipped by Francis Lui for the title at that track.

Considering his reliance on the Valley circuit, it’s probably remarkable he has won the title four times but if can lift his game at Sha Tin, he can be a threat.

Lui has been a revelation in the last four years with consistent, high level performances even aside from the heroics of Golden Sixty. He arrived in time for the runner-up spot last season, his best win tally of 67 and best finishing position in 26 years as a trainer, though he still needs to go up another notch to win one.

What should we expect from the successful freshmen of last season, Pierre Ng and Jamie Richards?

Ng landed 41 wins and Richards 35 at the first time of asking and history shows that first season trainers generally do better in Season 2.

Ng has grown up with the Hong Kong system and conditions, so it’s reasonable to think he might not have the same improvement in him as Richards.

The Kiwi had more Class 4 debut winners than any trainer last season with 4, and that's a path to success that Size has proved a reliable one over his many years.

Either Ng or Richards could register a 50-win season this time without surprising, although both are probably at least a season away still from being considered title threats.

The new faces this time are Australian Mark Newnham and Cody Mo, a long-time Tony Cruz protégé, who was the travelling foreman for the champion Silent Witness' Japan trips almost two decades ago.

Although Cruz is famously one of the fast beginners amongst the trainers every season, Mo looks to have taken a more reserved approach to his new career – he didn’t have a trial starter until August 30 and won’t have a runner on opening day.

Newnham, a pne-time Gai Waterhouse assistant who has been doing a good job in Sydney for six years under his own banner, will also bypass the first meeting but has a few stable inmates showing up well enough at the trials.

Both trainers have a mixed bag of ammunition – often the case with new trainers – with some dispersal between them of lower grade horses left by departing trainers Tony Millard and Richard Gibson.

Links to his old boss have lent some assistance to Mo, including the Cheung family loading him up with their “Circuit” horses, Circuits Nine, Ten, Eleven and Booming, but he probably has the pick of the transfers with promising Romantic Laos moving to his barn from Jamie Richards.

Newnham’s best performed pick up has been Tourbillon Diamond, arguably past his best at seven but he has run with great credit a number of times in top company over the last 2 years – including two Group Three wins in the 2021-22 season and laudable efforts behind California Spangle and Romantic Warrior early last term.

He hasn't won for eighteen months now but has had some significant relief in the handicap, is nearing Class 2 and might have something to offer.

The freshmen will be trying to squeeze what they can from cast offs in the first few months before we see what they can do with new imports from December onwards.

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