Patience has been one of the keys to John Size’s incredible success in Hong Kong and he has typically been a minor player on opening day, but the unique circumstances created by Covid-19 mean things are different this year.
The 11-time champion trainer will saddle up eight runners at Sha Tin on Sunday – matching his total from the previous four seasons combined and ensuring he will have his biggest team since 2011.
That was the year he last tasted success at the first meeting with King Mossman taking out a 1,200m Class Three with his now-rival Douglas Whyte in the saddle.
It is not just an opening day phenomenon. Size typically builds up slowly and is rarely sighted in September with tallies of one, two, one and one wins in the past four terms.
But 2020 is a year like no other and with most trapped in Hong Kong because of the pandemic, work took precedence over a holiday.
“They didn’t close the two tracks so there was some work available for the horses,” Size said. “These ones didn’t need much of a break. There are plenty of horses of mine who have had three weeks or a month off, but these guys didn’t seem to need that, they’ve trained through it all right.
“I’m like everyone else, we’re living under restrictions and to keep myself occupied I might as well go to work for half a day – there’s not much else to do – and try to entertain the family at the same time.
“We’re just trying to make the best of it. Hopefully the situation improves for everybody around the planet.”
Size hasn’t won the day’s feature, the Class One HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup (1,200m), since Enthused saluted in 2008, but he holds a strong hand this time around with Champion’s Way, Beauty Legacy and Shining Ace all competing.
Four-time champion jockey Joao Moreira retains the ride on Champion’s Way, who placed in the first two legs of the four-year-old series last term but couldn’t replicate his stunning debut season when he won six of his seven starts, including the Group Three Lion Rock Trophy.
After failing in the Hong Kong Derby (2,000m) last start, Size plans on racing him over shorter trips this campaign.
“He’s won races over 1,200m but not at a high level,” he said. “He looks like a 1,400m horse and he runs a mile quite well. He’s on [a rating of] 108, if he can get past 120, he can probably run in a [Hong Kong Mile].”
Beauty Legacy (Neil Callan) caught the eye with an impressive victory in his Hong Kong debut but then struggled to settle at times and is also dropping back in trip.
“The tempo will be quick enough for him to get comfortable and I think he’ll run on OK,” Size said. “In his races, when the tempo changes he can’t make the adaptation quickly enough to get comfortable and he puts in some awkward strides.
“We’ll just run him in the first couple of handicaps and see how he comes up. I wouldn’t go a mile again unless his habits change.”
Shining Ace (Matthew Chadwick) was one of the shining lights of the stable last season, winning the Happy Valley Million Challenge and proving a model of consistency with four wins and eight placings from 15 starts.
“He’s had a lot of racing and every time he makes some improvement,” Size said. “He started on [a rating of] 63 last season and now he’s on 100. I will give him a run in Class One because there is no Class Two over 1,200m for a while and we’ll see how he measures up. It will be interesting to see him run against the better horses.”
After winning four titles in a row, 2019-20 was a down season for Size, finishing sixth in the championship with 46 winners.
But with some new horses in the stable and an ounce more luck – he had 73 seconds – the 66-year-old is optimistic he can bounce back.
“I’m hoping I’ll do a little bit better,” Size said. “It just depends how it all unfolds and whether the new horses have any potential and whether the old ones can keep soldiering on – we’ll find out at about Christmas.”