John Size’s Champion’s Way capped off a near-perfect debut season with an imposing win in the Group Three Lion Rock Trophy (1,600m) at Sha Tin on Sunday.
The son of Hinchinbrook became just the second three-year-old to win the race and marked himself as the early favourite for next season’s Classic Mile in the process after motoring home against a strong field under jockey Joao Moreira.
Rapper Dragon went on to sweep all three legs of the four-year-old series after winning the same race in the 2015-16 season.
The win takes Champion’s Way record to six wins in seven starts and he will now boast a rating of around 110 after starting off 52 in January.
“That is about as good as it gets, and I certainly wouldn’t ask him [to do any more],” Size said of the impressive five-month stretch.
“He hasn’t had any gear on him, he has done it on his own. I haven’t tried to help him much, just let him be because he keeps winning, and again he won.”
After jumping from barrier one, Champion’s Way settled just worse than midfield before Moreira was forced to get to work early due to leaders Ka Ying Star and Mission Tycoon dropping anchor before the bend.
“I think he did a respectable job,” Size said. “They went out a little bit hard early, then they slowed up and he had to make that adaptation, which is not easy for a young horse, and then to win the race he had to get going again.
“It was a bit of a test of his racing aptitude, which obviously he hasn’t developed yet, and he still got away with the win. It was full of merit actually, I was pretty happy with that.
“Now he is rated 100-and-something, that is a pretty good mark for a four-year-old at the start of [next] season.”
After laying out in the straight, Champion’s Way showed he was far from the finished product, giving Size scope to work with going forward.
“We are hoping [he can improve], when he has something to run at and there are horses around he is better still,” he said.
With owner Dr Arthur Leung confirming post-race he hoped to race in the four-year-old series next season, Size said he would prepare his star galloper for a shot at the title.
Yet to race over further than 1,600m, the master trainer said it would likely remain unknown if he can handle the gruelling 2,000m trip of the Derby until race day, should they get there.
“You would think so because of his rating, that he would take part in that,” he said. “He is up there already, he is qualified, I just have to get him back to that time of year in good shape.
“I think he will answer that question [2,000m] as he is training up into it. It is not the sort of thing I worry about until race day, as you have probably seen.”
The win was Moreira’s third for the day, taking the Brazilian’s total to 11 in the past eight days alone.
It also marked a double for Size, which keeps intact his eight-win buffer in the trainer’s championship on rival John Moore, who also trained a double.
Size and Moreira teamed up earlier in the day in the Class Three HKU Faculties of Business & Economics and Science Handicap (1,200m) to break British import Red Desert’s Hong Kong maiden status.
The three-year-old won two from four starts in Britain but had been beaten by almost a combined 20 lengths in his first three starts in Hong Kong before prevailing on Sunday.