The changes to compulsory retirement for trainers aged 65 and up – which has been dubbed by some, perhaps unfairly – “the John Moore rule”, delivers Hong Kong racing far more than just five more years of safari suits, Class One cup winners and media-friendly post-race interviews.
Maybe it should be regarded as the “John” rule though – as even though 63-year-old John Moore could be the first big name to benefit, John Size isn’t far behind him at 58 – and the loss of both expat Aussies would leave an unfathomable void when it comes to consistent importation of talented horseflesh to Hong Kong.
Between “the two Johns”, both hemispheres are covered – Moore has become a master of finding the right pre-raced Europeans, and importantly, horses with scope to deliver more. While Size’s stable is part of a production line pumping out progressive Australian- and New Zealand-bred youngsters.
They are both innovators and leaders in their field – yet they have an approach that is so different they can happily co-exist. Sometimes it seems like Moore and Size aren’t even rivals. It’s because their goals are different – Moore wants the most prize money, and Size wants the most wins.
When you talk about getting too big for your fishpond, well, Hong Kong racing is so small it is a not even a budget fishbowl from the Mong Kok Goldfish Market – a win to one person is one less for someone else, and there’s only so much fish food to go around. Yet, despite this, the “sharks” - Size and Moore – could both conceivably have a career-best season at the same time.
The new criteria are tough and allow for both the Moore and Size model of success. Three straight seasons - the final three before turning 65 - of finishing top five in either wins or prize money ensure only elite make it through. It is a cutthroat system – and Moore still has to finish top five next term. It’s no lay-up, trainers can have off seasons, but it shouldn’t be easy.
Rarely is there so much on the line for a trainer as there is for Moore in 2013-14 – but his team has an imposing look for next term. How’s this for ten to follow for next season? Start with the three-year-olds Flagship Shine, Sterling City, Sea Diamond, Able Friend, Designs On Rome and Secret Sham. Throw in a trio of generation-next sprinters; Time After Time, Charles The Great and Frederick Engels, and then there’s this season’s four-year-olds heading into open company; including Ashkiyr, and take your pick of either Poetic Justice or Albiceleste. All ten are Moore’s and all have something left to offer.
Of course, that is what Moore already has on the books, but you can count on him heading north next month armed with a fat chequebook and bringing back three or four more big-money purchases as the European season winds down.
Moore might attract the big money clients – but he works hard and puts some other trainers to shame. He will sometimes tell you what his horses cost owners, but he knows what everyone else’s cost too – that’s because he has looked at them all with his own eyes, forgoing much of his summer break to travel through Europe and visit stables. Rival trainers might point to the fact that Moore has the money, but how many of them can match him for effort? The emphasis on type, breeding and conformation shines through in the gleaming coats and correct legs of his runners.
When Size arrived in 2001, he sent a shockwave through Sha Tin – everyone was on notice as owners flocked to his yard. In many ways the quietly spoken and unassuming Queenslander is the antithesis of Moore in personality as well as training style – he boosted his numbers working by the principle of attraction rather than promotion. He doesn’t need to tell owners what a great job he will do –actions speak much louder the words in the long term. With the newly revised bottom-end benchmarks still relatively easy to achieve – Size is the standard-setter that ensures his rivals stay on their toes.
And while it might seem like we were joking about the safari suits, with Andy Leung Ting-wah and his fluoro outfits departing the scene, Moore leaving would be a hammer blow on the fashion front. And while many might think Size needs a stylist to match the likes of a fashionista like Olivier Doleuze – he is actually very cool. His 1990s club-meets-Miami Vice fashion sense was so far behind it has actually come full circle and is in vogue again with nifty tailored suits, Ray Bans sunglasses and skinny ties.
There’s a few things that don’t matter when it comes to training horses – and having a penchant for safari suits or skinny ties are but two. Another is age, and (panama) hats off to the Hong Kong Jockey Club for keeping these two game-changers in the fold.