Saddling half the field not all beer and skittles says Size (but it's a nice problem to have)
It's the problem every trainer wants to have but John Size says there is a downside to turning up to Group races with half the field.
Size makes yet another five-pronged assault on a Hong Kong feature in the G2 Jockey Club Sprint on Sunday, with five of the nine runners and was spared that being six of nine by the off-season transfer of his 2017 Longines HK Sprint winner Mr Stunning to his former assistant Frankie Lor.
For the past 18 months, Size has owned the peak Hong Kong sprinting scene, collecting all three G1s at 1200m, all four of the short G2 features as well as one of the two available G3s. In all likelihood, he will have four in the Hong Kong Sprint next month - unless Premiere steps up a notch and makes it five - and the last time a G1 or G2 at 1200m or less was won by someone else was Lucky Bubbles' 2017 Chairman's Sprint Prize. That gave Size a taste of the flipside of the coin as he had four runners in the race. In May last year, Lucky Year beat a five-handed Size team in the G3 Sha Tin Vase, too. Lucky for some.
Stablemate trifectas like D B Pin (left) leading home stablemates Mr Stunning and Beat The Clock in the G1 Centenary Sprint Cup are not uncommon overseas.
In Australia, with training behemoths like Chris Waller and Darren Weir, or in Europe or Great Britain, the likes of Aidan O'Brien, trainers who have hundreds of horses on the books are able to present multiple runners with winning chances in some of the biggest feature races on the calendar and take away most or even all the big stakemoney and the glory.
Those things are not so common in Hong Kong. With a cap of 60 horses per trainer, just finding multiples of the types and standards of horses required to win or be competitive in the Group races is more challenging and Size was the first trainer to quinella one of the December internationals when Mr Stunning and D B Pin filled one-two in the Hong Kong Sprint last year (below),
even if we have seen multiple runners often enough over recent years from John Moore, even Tony Cruz at times.
So somewhere along the lines, we missed noticing the negative but Size says there is one.
"The positive is obvious but the negative is if you get beaten - you're seen to have all the favours and still didn't win, and that can happen," Size says.
A more obvious potential downside is discontent if an owner or set of owners for one of the runners isn't happy about being beaten by stablemates. Size says he hasn't encountered that to date although why Mr Stunning walked out of the yard after rising to the top of the world with Size remains a mystery.
And instructions must surely be an issue? While a pre-race plan to many trainers will consist of the uncomplicated instructions to "be third on the fence" or "sit off the pace" or they "leave it to the jockey", Size is an exception.
He is meticulous in his preparation for race day, producing hand-written speed maps to assist in explaining to his jockeys what he expects in the race and what plans A, B or C might look like.
So how does having half the field competing for big dollars impact on that - can the trainer put out of his mind that the plan for horse A has to deal with the plan for horse B?
"When you are preparing the horses for the race in their training, you don't do anything different knowing that you'll have multiple runners - you prepare each individual the best way you can to win the race," Size explains. "The maps are the same. You look at the race from the point of view of each horse, like it's five horses each in a different race, and work out what you'd like to see from the rider to give each one the best chance for that horse to win. And that's how you explain it to each jockey separately. It isn't complicated. The race itself and the result can be complicated but I have no control over that. How you approach it beforehand is pretty simple and I have never struggled with that."
Size said he had had no qualms about potentially tackling the G1 Hong Kong Sprint first-up with any of the group of sprinters - a path he took successfully with Glorious Days in the Mile five years ago - but he felt that D B Pin, Beat The Clock and Premiere, who have not raced for periods varying from nearly 11 months (Premiere) to seven months (Beat the Clock), were ready to go and should tackle their more racefit stablemates Ivictory and Hot Kong Prawn in the traditional dress rehearsal three weeks from the main event.
"They're sound, fit and healthy and no reason they shouldn't go to the races. D B Pin is coming back from a tendon injury to his near fore but he's fine, it was never the sort of injury where I thought we wouldn't get him back," Size says. "I'm not looking at this race thinking the horses resuming are behind the others in their preps. In fact, we know how good Beat The Clock is fresh so he might not be behind at all."
As ever, Size isn't willing to split his five runners going into Sunday's race and points out that recent history confirms it as the right approach.
"Last season I had Mr Stunning, D B Pin, Beat The Clock and Ivictory all bumping into each other in these races and the results were often different so if we learned anything from that it's that there isn't a great deal between all of them and now you're adding Hot King Prawn and Premiere to the mix," he said.