By Andrew Hawkins
Victory in the G3 Sha Tin Vase Handicap (1200m) has eluded handler John Size throughout his 16-year Hong Kong career, but the reigning Champion Trainer has the weight of numbers in his favour as he seeks to take the race for the first time on Sunday (28 May).
Size sends out half of the 10-runner field for what he labels “the last major sprint of the season” with G2 Sprint Cup winner Mr Stunning (133lb) joined by last year’s beaten odds-on favourite in this race Amazing Kids (131lb), comeback kid Thewizardofoz (128lb), 2015/16 Champion Miler Sun Jewellery (120lb) and rising star D B Pin (113lb).
“Most of these horses have had a tough year,” Size said at Sha Tin trackwork on Friday morning (26 May). “They have had a long season so some horses might be a little bit tired, some horses might have had enough. It is a good test for them, so we will see what holds up.”
Mr Stunning has risen to the top of Hong Kong’s sprint ranks this season, taking his rating from 83 at the start of the term to his current domestic mark of 128 – the highest in Hong Kong at the moment, only equalled by dual Hong Kong Sprint winner Aerovelocity.
However, Size admits the task will be tough for the Exceed And Excel gelding, who will be partnered by Joao Moreira once again, with the four-year-old conceding as much as 20 pounds to some of his rivals.
“On paper, the highly-weighted horses look disadvantaged when you first look at a handicap like that, but they’ve got the record – they are Group 1 horses and they have earned that mark,” he said. “In a handicap, they can still be competitive, but it isn’t easy. Mr Stunning is probably going to go back in the field from his wide draw and just have the last run at them – hopefully the race can be won by a horse from off the pace.”
Mr Stunning was just beaten as favourite in the G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize over this course and distance on 7 May, charging home but finding Lucky Bubbles a neck superior that day.
“I think if he had a perfect run, he might have won, but races aren’t always run perfectly for you,” he said. “I think he beat himself, in one respect – he was having a look at the horse beside him (Not Listenin’tome) when he was finishing the race off so that probably cost him the win.”
Also coming out of the Chairman’s Sprint Prize are Thewizardofoz (fourth), Amazing Kids (sixth) and Sun Jewellery (eighth), with Size suggesting Chad Schofield-partnered Thewizardofoz may be his best chance of victory in the HK$3 million feature.
“He has been good, ‘The Wizard’,” Size said. “He improved for his first start this preparation and he improved again after his second start. He’s going up in rating now. I think he’s got a good chance of winning the race, but he will need a little bit of luck. He’s going to be fifth or sixth and he’s got to get out of there on straightening. His progress has been very good, and I’m very happy with him.
“Amazing Kids raced well last time, it was his first run after Dubai and came a month after so he could have improved on it. Sun Jewellery has been struggling with a wind issue but at 1200m he ran very well last start. He’s got a better gate this time so he’ll probably be midfield on the rail, getting a very sweet run. He should have plenty of energy to finish the race.”
The unknown quantity among Size’s quintet is D B Pin. The four-year-old is in line to be named this season’s Most Improved Horse after taking his rating from 56 to 108 through five wins, the latest a Class 2 over 1200m on dirt in early April where he strolled clear for a three and a quarter length victory.
“He hasn’t raced for a while, he’s had a couple of trials,” Size said. “He is a lower grade of horse than Mr Stunning at this point, so he will need that handicap advantage to be competitive.”
Until last start, there had been a query about the 1200m trip for D B Pin, and Size admitted that those concerns have not been entirely quelled: “I think there will be three horses in front of him, he might only be running fourth, we need to try and save his energy. I think if I put him up on the lead, he would just be a sitting shot, he would be vulnerable the last 100m.”
Visiting rider Silvestre de Sousa will take his first ride on the Darci Brahma gelding, one of six rides on Sunday’s card for the English-based Brazilian.
Two horses weighted along with the 113-pound limit along with D B Pin are last season’s Most Improved Horse Fabulous One, trained by Chris So, and John Moore-prepared Magic Legend, who was beaten for the first time in Hong Kong last time out.
Fabulous One makes his return from a Dubai sojourn, racing twice at Meydan over the World Cup Carnival. While he disappointed there, So is confident he can improve back to Sha Tin.
“His run wasn’t that bad last time out over the straight 1200m, he just used up too much energy early,” the trainer said. “He will be better getting back to a right-handed turn. I’m happy with him now, he trialled well last week. With such a light weight, maybe he will be hard to run down.”
Derek Leung rides the Elusive City five-year-old for the first time since the pair finished fifth behind Peniaphobia in this race last year.
Three-year-old Magic Legend creates interest at what is his sixth Hong Kong start. The Australian import won his first four races in Hong Kong, a rarity for any Private Purchase, before he tasted defeat for the first time locally in a Class 2 down the straight behind Size-trained House Of Fun. That day, he struggled to get clear running under regular rider Douglas Whyte before making solid ground for third.
“He’s a proper horse, that’s for sure,” Sunday’s jockey Karis Teetan said. “Normally from those outside gates down the straight, you are suited, but he just had no luck. He’s shown his quality though and he deserves his chance in his current form, especially with the light weight.
“I worked him down the riverside on Monday, he gave me a nice feel. He’s very speedy, he’s not a big horse but I’m sure he must have a big heart from the way he’s run. He tries hard and that’s such a big asset.”
The G3 Sha Tin Vase Handicap (1200m) is scheduled to jump at 4.40pm as the eighth of 10 races, with the day’s feature, the G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m), coming up a race earlier at 4.05pm.
Mr Stunning (No. 2) closes in for second behind Lucky Bubbles in the G1 Chairman��s Sprint Prize at Sha Tin on 7 May.
D B Pin scores his fifth win of the season in a Class 2 1200m handicap on Sha Tin��s All-Weather Track on 5 April.
Magic Legend storms home for a comfortable Class 2 win over the course and distance in April.