By Andrew Hawkins
Leading handler John Size is in the box-seat to set a new record for most wins in a Hong Kong season by any trainer at Sunday’s Sha Tin meeting (25 June) with a strong hand of nine runners across eight races, ranging from Group-race entrants to promising three-year-olds.
The record has stood at 91 winners for 12 seasons, achieved by Tony Cruz when he produced that phenomenal 2004/05 return in 78 meetings. It was equalled by eight-time champion trainer Size on Wednesday night (21 June) at Happy Valley.
With Sunday’s 83rd card of the term, Size has a lesser strike rate than Cruz but still appears likely to set a new high mark that will be difficult to top in years to come.
“It doesn’t mean a great deal, but it means I’ve probably been lucky to have a number of horses win multiple races in a season,” Size said at Sha Tin on Friday morning (23 June). “It can happen if you get a good group together, you can get well past the 60-win mark. We haven’t had many interruptions, the horses have been sound, they have been healthy and well and the races come along at the right time. As they go up in rating, they’ve been handling that.
“This might happen once in 10 years, when actually a full team comes together like that.”
Size’s team has been headed by horses like G2 Sprint Cup (1200m) winner Mr Stunning, dual G3 victor Amazing Kids and five-time winners D B Pin and House Of Fun. However, it has been his emerging horses – the likes of Nothingilikemore, Beat The Clock and Hot King Prawn – that have continued to step up throughout the season and stamp themselves as prospects for next term too.
Two such horses are three-year-olds Ivictory and Jolly Bountiful, who step out on Sunday and loom as chances to give Size his 92nd winner and the record.
Class 3 Amethyst Handicap (1200m) runner Ivictory (125lb) is unbeaten from two starts in Class 4, having won over the straight 1000m on debut before opening up for an easy success over 1200m. Size believes that the potential Champion Griffin contender is capable of going three-from-three on Sunday.
“He’s done nothing wrong,” he said. “The first day, he looked like the 1000m was a bit too short for him and the last furlong, he really dug in and got up to win the race, so that was impressive. Then he followed it up at his next start, although the handicapper was obviously impressed too as he has gone up a fair bit in rating. He has to deal with that on Sunday.
“Still, I think he’s still got a chance in Class 3. Without racing, you can’t learn, so his experience in Class 4 is going to bring him on further and he should make natural improvement, he should still develop as a racehorse as he goes along. I think, of the horses that have come out of Class 4 in my stable, he’d be the best of those. He’s well on the way.”
Jolly Bountiful (131lb) made his debut at Happy Valley last month, making solid ground into third over 1000m. He stepped up to 1200m at his maiden Sha Tin appearance last start, winding up very late to just prevail in the last stride. The Bullbars gelding now tries 1400m for the first time.
“It looks like he needed a little bit further,” Size said. “He had no advantage in that race at 1200m, he was lucky to get up on the line. So we’ll ask him to run a bit further and see if he’s capable of that. If he’s got the strength to run 1400m, he might win again.
“He seems healthy and well, he’s had three weeks and I think his fitness is still there. So he should be OK.”
Umberto Rispoli, who has ridden Ivictory to win both starts as well as scoring on Jolly Bountiful last start, maintains his association with both horses. The rider’s partnership with Size has blossomed in recent months, and he is hopeful of playing a role in a history-making day for the handler.
“I hadn’t ridden much for John Size at all in my previous time in Hong Kong,” Rispoli said. “I rode the Derby winner Fay Fay in a few Group races, but I only had nine or 10 rides for him before this season. So really, my association with John has only started this year.”
Rispoli partnered Right Call to victory on 19 March at his first ride for the stable in two years, and since then the Italian ace has had 10 further mounts for the yard for his two wins on Ivictory and his triumph on Jolly Bountiful.
“I was really lucky because my first ride for him this season was Right Call and I got a winner,” he said. “When you have a winner for John Size, it is always a pleasure, and since then we have had a bit of success. He has given me some nice rides too, but he makes it easy for us as jockeys – he’s straightforward in his instructions, he almost knows already how the race is going to pan out, and so it is just a matter of getting them into the right spot. You know they are going to run well if that happens.
“He’s going to reach the record of winners, it just depends when, but it shows just how good a trainer he is. Hopefully, I can help him to do it.”
Among Size’s other runners at Sha Tin are G3 Premier Plate Handicap (1800m) entrant Eastern Express and G3 Premier Cup Handicap (1400m) duo Thewizardofoz and Sun Jewellery, which will be run as races three and seven respectively. The opener, the Class 5 Topaz Handicap (1400m), is scheduled for 12.45pm.
Umberto Rispoli and Ivictory complete back-to-back triumphs earlier this month at Sha Tin.
Jolly Bountiful opened his Hong Kong account last time.