Trainer John Size is within touching distance of one of his biggest milestones yet in Hong Kong, and the handler is confident he has the horsepower to add a cherry on top as he looks for his fourth win in five years in Sunday’s second leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m).
Size is just two wins away from having prepared 1000 winners during his 16-year career in Hong Kong, with John Moore and Tony Cruz the only active trainers to have reached the benchmark already – not that the Australian was keeping track.
“I didn’t know that, but you are making me a little bit nervous now!” Size told the press pack at the Sha Tin barrier trials on Friday morning (17 February). “I’ve got plenty of chances on Sunday so hopefully I get to 1000 winners on that day.”
Size sends out four runners in the Hong Kong Classic Cup, a race in which he has had particular success with four wins all told: Unique Jewellery (2009), It Has To Be You (2013), Thunder Fantasy (2015) and Sun Jewellery (2016). Last-start Class 2 winners Western Express and Dinozzo are joined by Prawn Baba and My Darling in the 1800m feature.
Only Western Express stepped out in the first leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, the Hong Kong Classic Mile, finishing 10th under English rider Ryan Moore after enduring a wide run throughout. The Encosta De Lago gelding atoned for that effort though with a comfortable victory in a Class 2 over 1400m last time out, beating fellow Classic Cup runner, Cruz-trained California Whip.
Western Express wins a 1400m Class 2 race comfortably last start with Joao Moreira on board, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
The trainer said it was a combination of not being ready for a race of the quality of the Classic Mile and the fact the race played against him which caused his defeat against the best of his generation two back, but he believes he will be competitive under new rider Brett Prebble.
“He looked like a horse that hadn’t had enough experience for that sort of race and it wasn’t suitably run for him either,” Size said. “So I thought on face value that he might have had an excuse, he might not. But he did come out and redeem himself and prove that he did have an excuse, he ran better next start. I think probably, because of his inexperience, we’ll try to keep him away from the other horses a little bit, we’ll drop out of the race and just let him finish it off. And we might be restricted to that until he gets a bit more comfortable, he actually is a pretty big horse and he mightn’t like being in amongst the field anyway.”
Size said the decision to push on to the Classic Cup was an easy one and that he had no qualms about the four-year-old seeing out the trip.
“I think, because he runs so well at 1600m you have to give him an opportunity at 1800m,” said Size. “Most of the horses that run well in the Classic Mile run well in the Classic Cup anyway. I’m not particularly concerned about that at this point.”
Of those coming from different formlines, Dinozzo shapes as the horse most likely to challenge Classic Mile winner Rapper Dragon, having scored a strong Class 2 win over the course and distance last month. That day, he sat three wide near a strong tempo under Joao Moreira, but still found plenty to score.
“It was a good, tough win, and even his previous run was good when he ran second because the winner came out and won the Centenary Vase, Supreme Profit,” Size said, with Hugh Bowman set to take his first ride on the son of Lilbourne Lad. “I think he’s a staying type but he’ll appreciate the distance again, it’s a bit of an awkward draw for him but we’ll try and overcome it.”
The handler sees his other two runners, Prawn Baba and My Darling, as still some way off the level of most of their rivals – at least currently – but he hopes they can push claims for a berth in next month’s BMW Hong Kong Derby.
“Prawn Baba goes into the race with not enough rating, really,” Size said. “Still, it could be a race where he’ll run well and he can qualify for a start in the Derby. Like every Hong Kong owner, they are keen to get to the Derby so we’ll try and get him qualified through that way. It’s similar with My Darling, he’s not there yet but he might get a start in the big race.”
The men that Size hopes to join in the millennium club on Sunday, Moore and Cruz, send out the bulk of the 13-strong field with four runners apiece. Moore’s hand is particularly solid, with Rapper Dragon, Beauty Generation, Eagle Way and Rodrico heading out for the Australian. Cruz will start Pakistan Star, Winner’s Way, California Whip and Super Chic, while the 13th runner, Seasons Bloom, runs for Danny Shum.
The Hong Kong Classic Cup is scheduled as the eighth event on the 10-race card at Sha Tin on Sunday and is set to jump at 4:35pm.
Dinozzo scores a strong Class 2 win over the course and distance latest, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club