One Size fits all in the Hong Kong trainers' championship despite the new Lor in town
John Size’s career at Sha Tin began with three straight training championships and he was there again in 2017-18 as he took his tenth title in 17 years and his influence on Hong Kong racing was further underscored by the performance of the runner-up, Frankie Lor.
Size began slowly and built, producing his winning move in November and December and was 22 clear at the wire from his former assistant.
Everyone was prepared for Lor to do well but surely nobody saw this stunning debut coming.
In some other seasons, Lor’s 65 wins might even have won him a championship – he eclipsed Size’s title-winning 58 in his freshman season, when there were ten fewer meetings, but this was the best performance by any new trainer since.
It had a real Size look about it too: horses ran quickly into form then held it in a predictable and consistent fashion.
The challenge for Lor (right) is to do it again and that is no small task.
A number of trainers who have enjoyed good debut seasons have struggled to repeat the same numbers subsequently, while others who started slowly have improved over time.
That will certainly encourage Michael Freedman, whose pre-season hope of training 20 winners seemed low but finished high. He landed only 14 wins and left a path of ill-luck trailing behind him after a high profile stable accident in August when a horse died and several more were injured and some owners shied away from what appeared a jinxed yard.
Freedman will surely improve for the experience, but Lor’s performance will raise expectations for the new trainer next season, Jimmy Ting.
Size's title win was inevitable for so much of the season that it’s easy to forgot how authoritative his usual mid-season surge was this term.
Three weeks into October, Size had two wins and shared last place on the ladder.
Ten weeks later, a four-timer on New Year’s Day saw him join Lor at the top of the table with 31 wins apiece and a month later he was 11 wins clear and it was over.
This was acceleration that Able Friend would have been proud to own but Size’s immense presence on the Hong Kong training landscape now decrees that the bigger story only comes when he fails to do something like that.
Not only did Size dominate the rank and file winners, as he often does, he had a vicelike grip on the sprinting majors,
his stable’s presence on the list of Hong Kong’s 50 top horses is at an all-time high and he even took the honours as the premier trainer at Happy Valley, which was utterly unthinkable only a few seasons ago.
Beauty Generation’s Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup interrupted Size’s march through the sprint Group Ones with Mr Stunning, D B Pin and Ivictory but he frequently sent out the quinella or tierce in big sprints and still has Hot King Prawn to join the group so his dominance isn’t going away.Size also won a Classic Mile with Nothingilikemore and the HK Derby with Ping Hai Star on the way to setting a new prizemoney record of more than $176 million and passed the milestone of 1,100 career wins in Hong Kong.
Tony Cruz also enjoyed a fine season in the big races but John Moore was off his normally peerless top end game, despite the heroics of Horse Of The Year Beauty Generation, and enters the last two seasons of his training career with a mid-table finish.
At the other end of the ladder, Derek Cruz and Almond Lee both bowed out after failing to meet the Jockey Club’s performance criteria for a third time, while Michael Chang left it late but scraped over the line.
David Hall endured the worst losing streak of his career with a 142-runner path through hell in mid-season and his final figure was a personal low of 20 wins.
The opening of Conghua Training Centre (CTC) in July signalled that the next season will hold more and new challenges for the nine current trainers – Size, Paul O’Sullivan, Chris So, John Moore, Danny Shum, Dennis Yip, Me Tsui, Tony Cruz and Caspar Fownes - who will be allowed to expand to 70 horses (from the usual 60) as the first to go to CTC but a proportion of them must eventually be trained there, 160 km from of Sha Tin.
How they employ the state of the art facility, how they liaise with their satellite staff and how it affects their results will be one of the big questions of 2018-19 but Size will surely cope as well as any and remains the man to beat again.