Master Size with an appropriate winner to bring up a milestone
There are far bigger races on the calendar than the Lion City Handicap – a mixed ratings band 1,400m race to close the day on Sunday at Sha Tin – but there may not have been a more appropriate race for “the master”, John Size, to bring up a milestone of 800 Hong Kong wins, given the elements of patience, planning and overall horsemanship the result required.
Once loaded into the gates and having jumped on terms, winning was the easy part for Mirage – a barrier rogue with what jockey Tye Angland described as “a hair trigger” and a propensity to lose it at the sight of starting gates on raceday.
Angland had to utilise his bull riding skills last time Mirage had been to the races late last year, the chestnut with the flaxen mane and tail turning on a tantrum and nearly throwing himself to the ground as the Australian jockey completed a dramatic dismount and landed on his feet.
That was D-day if the horse was to compete in the HK$6 million Hong Kong Classic Mile the following month – a race with first prizemoney far less than what owner Larry Yung Chi-kin would have paid for the exciting sprinter out of Australia.
Despite the pressure and expectation – that’s the race the horse was purchased for after all – Size scrapped any immediate plans for Mirage and went back to school, nursing the horse through a thorough re-education process.
Trackwork riders regularly took the four-year-old through the gates at the top of the all-weather track straight, trying to build confidence and on raceday Mirage left the parade ring early and riderless – Size and Angland joining him on the track, away from the other horses and then escorted by a lead pony.
There might not be a better jockey for the job than Angland, raised in a rodeo family, and grown up breaking in horses far madder than Mirage will ever be.
There were some nervous moments before the race. Fabulous November lost it in the gates, and injured his rider Andreas Suborics, meaning the time bomb had to sit and wait even longer. Then Mirage busted the front of his starting stall open and it looked a disaster waiting to happen, but once away a tough and talented sprinter-miler was unleashed on Hong Kong racing.
Mirage had already fractured a nose in the journey to get here, because of his unpredictable behaviour, and Size had allowed him an incredibly slow recovery before his first start – he actually arrived in June last year.
No trainer is more patient than Size, and to underline that, when asked after the race whether Mirage entering the barriers successfully on Sunday was “career defining”, he replied: “No, we could always just start again and bring him back at five or six.”
Of course it helps to have the respect that seven Trainers’ Championships commands – owners tend to stick solid. Size is one of the handful of trainers who actually has a waiting list, and knocks back owners and horses.
Mirage may remain a handful, Who knows? But had things gone wrong on Sunday he would be in a far worst place than he is now – a promising unbeaten horse with a one-from-one record in his new home, a little over a month after plenty of people were saying it was “game over” for the horse.