With a dozen horses rated 100 or higher and a host of others headed that way in a hurry, it seems John Size has a stable full of superstars but it is his less heralded handicappers that could come to the fore on Sunday at Sha Tin.
Size’s top sprinters alone could fill a Group race but as the Australian trainer closes in on a 10th championship it is worth reflecting on the great job his horses in the lower grades have done this term.
While the likes of BMW Hong Kong Derby winner Ping Hai Star, fellow four-year-old Conte and upwardly mobile sprinter Hot King Prawn have rattled off winning sequences, the battlers have done their bit with wins of their own.
Superstars can’t run every week, and with the season extended to 88 meetings in 2016-17, Size has looked to horses like Giddy Giddy, Five Stars Agent, Bond Elegance and Money Boy to keep the stable ticking over in between the big days.
The aforementioned quartet don’t have the sexy strike rate of their stablemates – they have only won 13 of their 132 career starts combined – but the unsung heroes of the yard get to build on their records on Sunday.
John Size brings up his 1100th Hong Kong win with Five Stars Agent in R1 at Sha Tin. Only the third trainer after John Moore (1586) and Tony Cruz (1141) to have reached that mark #HKRacing pic.twitter.com/BUhRDMDHSe— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) February 28, 2018
Five Stars Agent (Olivier Doleuze) might be the best chance of success as the five-year-old shoots for back-to-back course and distance dirt wins in the Class Five Amber Handicap (1,200m).
After winning over 1,650m on the all weather last season, Five Stars Agent was then competitive over 1,800m and seemed to have found a niche.
After some unplaced efforts, Size tried sprints with almost immediate results, the trainer’s lowest-rated horse adding a comfortable 1,200m victory to his résumé late last month.
Five Stars Agent stays in the grade – the gelding is Size’s only horse in Class Five – and from barrier two looks ideally positioned to hold a prominent place in the run.
Another Size-trained runner that dipped into Class Five this term is Remarkable (Matthew Chadwick) and the four-year-old will attempt to bring his best form from dirt to turf on Sunday in the Class Four Emerald Handicap (2,000m).
Remarkable has won over 1,800m and then 1,650m on the dirt in convincing fashion but the four-year-old’s runs on turf were also encouraging.
The run on efforts also indicated the long striding bay would enjoy more ground and he gets that in a moderate Class Four.
Size’s youngster Raging Storm (Joao Moreira) staged a strong form turnaround at his second start and seems to have the necessary upside to overcome an awkward draw at start three in the Class Three Topaz Handicap (1,400m).
The key could be the start and whether Moreira can get the three-year-old into a comfortable rhythm.
Another likely winner on the day is Empire Star (Nash Rawiller) as he finds a better draw in the Class Four Crystal Handicap (1,400m).
The gate won’t mean Rawiller will be close – Empire Star just doesn’t have the gate speed nor is it his style – but hopefully he won’t be conceding the race position he has at his past two starts from wide draws.
Later in the day, Royal Mojito (Chad Schofield) looks a great chance as he comes back to straight racing in the Class Three Ruby Handicap (1,000m).
Royal Mojito seemed like a horse that needed further when he zipped home for second behind Hot King Prawn in November.
While he has been good up at 1,400m, placing at three of his last four, perhaps he can assert himself more back at 1,000m.