by David Morgan
John Size seemed to be trudging through treacle in the early weeks of this season but a subsequent upsurge in form sees the Champion Trainer heading into 2017 top of the premiership and with two strong candidates for victory in Hong Kong’s first Group race of the New Year, Sunday’s (1 January) G3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1400m).
“We’ve got back into a rhythm and the horses are racing well,” Size said this morning (Friday, 30 December). “This time of the year, November, December, January, that’s how it should be happening - for my style, anyway. It’s okay, it’s been a little bit difficult to get to that point but at least it looks respectable now.”
Only four wins by the end of October became 16 by the time November was over. With normality resumed, Size heads into Sunday’s fixture top of the table for the first time this term, December’s 11-winner yield taking him to the fore with 27 on the board.
The eight-time Hong Kong champion will saddle Contentment (133lb) and Sun Jewellery (129lb) in Sha Tin’s New Year’s Day feature, a high-class edition despite a field of only seven. Four of those contested the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile last start, including the Size pair.
“Sun Jewellery scoped after the race with a bit of mucus so that might not have helped his cause,” the trainer revealed.
Last season’s Champion Miler never looked at ease in the Hong Kong Mile and ran home a disappointing 12th of 14, four and a half lengths behind the victorious Beauty Only.
“Before that race his preparation was quite good,” Size said. “He was going well, but it did look like he had some excuse on the day so we’ll try again and hope he goes better this time.”
Neil Callan will take the ride for the first time on Sunday aboard last season’s HKG1 Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m) and HKG1 Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) hero, four of whose seven Hong Kong wins have been achieved at the course and distance.
Contentment, fourth in the Hong Kong Mile last start, is another with an impressive course and distance record - five wins all told including a career highlight in last season’s G1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup.
“The record says 1400 metres is better for him,” Size said. “The horse is good, there’s nothing wrong with him and I’m sure he’ll run well.
“Contentment did very well in the Mile last time so he might be a bit stronger but Sun Jewellery is the horse that should make improvement. I think there’s very little between a few horses in this race and it just depends on the conditions on the day and how they react.”
One of the closely-matched is Joyful Trinity (133lb). John Moore’s charge has been a consistent protagonist this term and benefited from a low weight to defeat Beauty Only in the G3 Celebration Cup Handicap at the course and distance back in October. The French import ran home with a flourish to finish a neck ahead of Contentment when third in the Hong Kong Mile. Zac Purton will climb aboard for the first time at the weekend.
“Hopefully, with a smaller field he’s not going to have to give them as much of a start this time,” the jockey said. “He’s been running well this season. His run in the Hong Kong Mile last time was great, his run the time before (fifth in the G2 Jockey Club Mile) was good and I’m expecting him to run well.”
Propping up the Chinese Club Challenge Cup field with bottom-weight of 113lb is Chris So’s emerging talent, Racing Supernova, a horse the trainer hopes will progress enough in the coming month or two to book a ticket to a big-race engagement in Dubai.
Brazilian ace Silvestre de Sousa partnered the lightly-raced five-year-old, another course and distance winner, to sixth behind the re-opposing Blizzard (121lb) and Dashing Fellow (119lb) in a quality-packed Class 1 handicap on the LONGINES HKIR undercard.
“Racing Supernova ran well last time and I think he’ll run a much better race this time,” de Sousa said. “Things didn't go right for him in his last race, they went very slow and I think he’ll show me a better result on Sunday.
“He’s a few pounds out of the handicap but there are a couple of horses in there that he has beaten already. If we have a good trip and one or two others have a bad trip then we’ll have a chance. I rode Sun Jewellery last time and he was a bit disappointing but he’s a good horse. And then Blizzard’s beaten him and he’s beaten Blizzard.
“Chris thinks very highly of this horse and he is a nice horse on his way up,” de Sousa continued. “He’s young and he’s carrying a low weight, so that’s an advantage and I think he has a good chance.”
The three-race 4YO Classic Series gets underway with the Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m) in three weeks’ time and jockey Sam Clipperton is hoping that one of the Moore stable’s four-year-old battalion, Booming Delight (127lb), will take a required step forward in race nine on Sunday, the Class 3 Lin Fa Shan Handicap (1600m).
Clipperton partnered the Fastnet Rock gelding in track work and trials before handing the reins to Hugh Bowman for an encouraging Hong Kong debut third behind Winner’s Way and Beat The Clock on international day. The British import scored twice in the UK from four starts and was sixth in the Britannia Handicap (1600m) at Royal Ascot when raced as Out And About for trainer William Haggas.
“Booming Delight seems to have come through the run really well,” Clipperton said of the full-brother to this year’s G1 Racing Post Trophy (1600m) winner Rivet. “He’s a horse that looks to have plenty of ability - I was riding him before his first-up run and he trialled really well, he was working very well and he ran accordingly, running third. I think he’s taken a lot of improvement out of that first-up run and he steps up to the mile on Sunday, which I think is ideal for him.
“Unfortunately, he’s drawn a bit wide (12) but hopefully we should just be able to let the horse find his feet, get a nice position in the back half of the field and I can see him hitting the line strongly.
“He feels like he has plenty of ability. In his trials, when I was riding before his first run, he gave me a great feel and he’s been working well since. He’s got plenty of ability and hopefully he can run well for us on Sunday.”
Meanwhile, another exciting four-year-old, Mr Stunning (127lb), will attempt to continue his advance up the ranks under Joao Moreira in the afternoon’s finale, the Class 2 Tai Mo Shan Handicap (1200m).
Size has prepped last season’s Champion Griffin to win four from six, two at the course and distance including a last start success, a half-length verdict over the re-opposing Merion (123lb). Mr Stunning has risen eight points for that win to a career high mark of 93, is four pounds worse off with the runner-up this time and must contend with a wide draw in gate 11.
“He seems alright, he’s not the strongest horse at home but I think he’s had enough time to recuperate and he probably should go back and repeat his run,” Size said.
“I think he’s fairly versatile, as he’s proven, and I’m not sure that the speed horses are particularly quick in this event. Flying Moochi looks like a leader but just recently he hasn't been showing as much speed as he could, so Mr Stunning might find himself in front again.”
Sunday’s 11-race New Year’s Day card kicks off at 12.30pm with the Class 5 Robin’s Nest Handicap (2000m).