Not for the first time, champion trainer John Size will line up the red-hot favourite in the HK$10 million Hong Kong Classic Mile on Sunday at Sha Tin, hoping for a better outcome than when it has happened before but very comfortable with not being the underdog.
“I don’t have a problem with being the favourite in a big race – the betting market isn’t stupid, and it’s better than putting a saddle on the 100-1 chances,” Size said of Nothingilikemore’s likely prohibitive price for the first four-year-old series race.
He has a chequered history with the Classic Mile favourite, even though he did win the race with Sun Jewellery two years ago. On that day, he also saddled up 2.4 chance Thewizardofoz, who over-raced when finishing fifth to his stablemate in a performance that convinced Size that the gelding was not going to stay longer than sprint trips.
But Size has also put the saddle on other beaten favourites in Grand Zulu (sixth in 2005 at 2.8), Unique Jewellery (ninth in 2009 at 2.9), and Fay Fay (runner-up in 2012 as 1.5 favourite).
Unique Jewellery bounced back to win the Classic Cup, while Fay Fay likewise bounced back and won the Derby, so their market position was justified later on, even if they didn’t quite get it done on Classic Mile day.
Fay Fay carried a record of eight starts for five wins and three seconds into the race before finishing a close and unlucky second, so Nothingilikemore has more in common with him than the others but Fay Fay was coming off three straight 1,600m wins and that distance is still an open question with Nothingilikemore.
“Maybe I’ll have a different view on Monday morning but at this stage the only thing you can say is that he hasn’t been tried at the distance,” Size said. “That doesn’t mean he can’t run it, it just means that hasn’t been tested but there is encouragement on that score. He is not a hard-going horse, he relaxes and you can put him anywhere and that will all help him to run the distance. And this is a good race to find out, against his own age at set weights.”
Punters who took prohibitive odds-on about Nothingilikemore on international day finished with a losing ticket for the first time in the gelding’s life but Size felt there was an explanation.
“I think the start was the problem. He jumped awkwardly and then never travelled like a winner, even though he was only just beaten,” Size explained. So, is that a concern? “It wasn’t the first time – he had jumped a bit slowly at his very first start and then was crowded and got a long back early but you couldn’t say it’s a habit with him.”
While Nothingilikemore will be the stable elect, Size is hoping Time To Celebrate will run well too after three wins from his five local starts.
“He has a bit of rating to make up on Nothingilikemore but he has done nothing wrong and there’s a bit to like about him. He has a good win percentage, and he has won leading, racing wide and from the back last start when a few things went wrong early in the race, so he seems to adapt to how a race is unfolding and still gets himself into the finish,” he said.
“That’s a good quality to have and, when a horse keeps winning, you don’t really know how good they are until they get properly tested against good horses.”
Size nominated Exultant as Nothingilikemore’s most obvious danger as the Tony Cruz-trained four-year-old has shown in all three of his local starts that he possesses good acceleration.
“I think he has to really be respected for two reasons – he has the rating to beat the rest but, just from my observation, he can sprint at the finish and that’s a key component to a quality horse, even if people might think the distance is short for him,” Size said.