Size claims Derby and lets young guns do the talking
The unparalleled ability of John Size to produce progressive newcomers was at the core of his campaign, but the master horseman's tried imports also fired and he added a long sought-after Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby to punctuate a seventh title in 11 seasons.
After the final day drama of the 2010-11 season, when John Moore toppled Tony Cruz, this season was one-way traffic. Size skipped away with the crown as his private purchase griffins (PPGs) struck with alarming regularity, often notching multiple victories on the back of impressive maiden wins.
Previously unraced horses accounted for 25 of his 70 victories, six of them going on with the job and grabbing two or more wins.
Size didn't just move PPGs through the grades, private purchase (PP) Glorious Days had won on debut in New Zealand, but Size took him from the bottom half of Class Three to a peak rating of 130 with four effortless wins. The four-year-old received the Most Improved Horse of the Year award. Fay Fay's Derby, giving the trainer his first win in the race, was particularly sweet for Size, but perhaps his greatest individual feat was unleashing then-unbeaten sprinter Entrapment for a devastating first-up win after an injury-enforced 15-month break in October's Sha Tin Sprint Trophy.
Moore (56 wins) not only held off Cruz (53) for second, but the big-race trainer was again the leading stake earner. His runners passed the HK$100 million mark, helped by 10 successes in Group races.
With his 35 wins, Richard Gibson arrived from France and had the biggest impact of any freshman since Size in 2001-02, earning a similar reputation for turning older horses around. To become a genuine championship threat, Gibson will need to tap into southern hemisphere talent, but he might prefer to chase big-race success - and that means expensive PPs - where his European background and ability to attract rich clients will be crucial.
Receiving some of retired trainer Alex Wong Yu-on's dispersed stock helped Gibson. Of the 20 horses Wong left behind, 14 won a total of 23 races, and most of them went to veteran Peter Ng Bik-kuen, who posted his biggest tally (28 wins) in nearly two decades.
Trainers at the state-of-the-art Olympic stables had contrasting years. Sean Woods (12) and David Ferraris (19) struggled for wins, blaming construction noise from the Hong Kong Sports Institute - although Ferraris did win two Group Ones. While on the other side of the barn, apparently free of the racket, Michael Chang Chun-wai had a career-best season with 27 and Andreas Schutz had 28. It remains to be seen whether renovation work beginning on Sha Tin's older stables, starting this off-season, has a similar effect.
Woods fell short of the performance benchmark of 13 wins, along with Andy Leung Ting-wah (nine).