Hong Kong racing’s extended season stretches into summer but John Size patience remains
John Size is likely to break the all-time record for wins in a season some time this week but it won’t be the best season of all time, writes Michael Cox in Happy Lucky Dragon Win
One of the side effects of the season stretching inexorably into summer, other than unsightly underarm sweat patches on shirts and even more varieties of John Moore safari suits, is skewed statistics and the record books being rewritten simply by virtue of an extended schedule.
At some stage during the next two meetings trainer John Size will probably equal, if not pass, the all-time record of 91 wins in a season, before the focus, for media at least, will be his ‘quest’ for what would have once been considered an inconceivable 100 winners.
Size needs 11 wins from the next eight meetings to get to the century, and he probably could do it easily, if he wanted to – the season going from 83 to 88 meetings takes care of that – but whether he wants to or not is a moot point.
More on Size’s individual accomplishments, and motivation, later, but regardless of whether he cracks triple figures or not, win total alone won’t make it the best season of all-time.
Just like hard and fast tracks, not horses, break track records, a longer season – more meetings and races – mean that old records are now essentially rendered meaningless, at least when it comes to simple comparisons.
This may be Size’s greatest ever season, and it is a tremendous achievement, no doubt, but it is Tony Cruz’s 2004-05 tour de force that still stands the test of time as best ever.
There have already been more race meetings, 80, and races, 732 (whoops, make that 731 #rakegate), so far this season than there were in 2004-05 – in which there were 78 meetings and 710 races in total.
Size has won 89 races from 481 runners at a strike rate of 18.5 per cent, one that surpasses a career high set in his championship season of 2007-08, when he won 68 races at 16.7 per cent.
A closer look at Cruz’s 2004-05 numbers, and his rivals’ stats, reveals just how dominant he was during that campaign.
In 2005 Cruz beat his nearest rival, Size, by a total of 41 winners, but he also won a total of seven, yes, seven, Group One races.
Cruz’s runners also tallied a total of more than $113 million, a total Size is still just short of despite massive increases in prize money over the last decade.
Take for instance a Class Three handicap, worth a total of around $700,000 in 2004/05, the same amount the winner of a Class Three receives to themselves out of a total purse of more than $1.2 million.
The money has grown even more in many feature races; Bullish Luck won a Champions Mile worth $8 million in 2005, while Contentment captured the same race this year – with the prizemoney having doubled to $16 million.
Size simply hasn’t had the same level of success at the top level as Cruz, that Champions Mile his solitary Group One.
Yet even without the big race success, Size has dominated in his own way, with the types of horses the Australian is famous for – young, progressive and untapped talents – making up the bulk of his winners.
Size has had a remarkable 65 winners in Class Three and below so far, compared to Cruz’s 51 from classes three, four and five in 2004-05.
It is this bottom-heavy structure, along with his unerring ‘horse first’ approach, that could help Size avoid the dreaded ‘bounce back’ that inevitably follows a big season.
The theory of the championship hangover goes, in part, that a trainer that pushes for a championship suffers a dip in performance the following term, a hangover of having horses squeezed for all their worth ratings-wise and returning too high in the handicaps.
In fact the recent records show that ‘post-championship syndrome’ isn’t so much theory as statistical fact by now.
Cruz dipped from his 91-win blowout in 2005 to a 58 win third-placed finish 12 months later (he actually hasn’t won a title since) and no trainer since Size in 2004 has won consecutive crowns.
Size himself rode the waves of oscillating results from season-to-season over the last 13 years – other than his initial three-peat, he has failed to put two together, but this year will go back-to-back with his ninth title.
In 2005 the season finished in June, and that means the hangover factor is probably even more prevalent now that there are more daytime meetings held in what are, quite simply, appalling conditions.
It will be interesting to see how many runners Size sends out over the remaining eight fixtures given how taxing it seems on horses.
Size has a runner in every race except the Class Five on Sunday and again on Wednesday it is only the two lower grade races where he doesn’t have a runner (Size doesn’t actually have any Class Five horses on his books right now).
In the lead-up to the Yasuda Kinen Size revealed a part of what drives him, or more to the point, what doesn’t.
He bristled at the idea that trying to win the Yasuda Kinen year after year, despite terrible results, was at least in part motivated by personal ambition. Surely somebody so good at their craft, in such a competitive field, is motivated by that moment when their name is called and they hoist a trophy above their head.
Not Size, he says it’s about doing a job for his owners, and getting the most out of his horses – and that’s what makes it less likely the number 100 will be sitting besides the trainer’s name in the record book after the season finale on July 16.
So while that patience, proven by the fact potential star like Nothingilikemore is cooling his heels for up to six months in his stable, means that he won’t be chasing milestones, it is also why Size is already favourite to make it a hat trick of titles next term.