He is the shortest-priced favourite to go under this season but Australian Hall of Fame trainer John Size believes his talented youngster Gallant Express can return to form in the Class Three Celosia Handicap (1,400m) at Sha Tin on Saturday.
Odds-on favourites have a good record in Hong Kong so far this season with 42 of the 70 (60 per cent) saluting and 55 of them (79 per cent) finishing in the top three, but Gallant Express was one of the exceptions when coming fourth at $1.3 last month.
Given that result, it would be understandable if punters didn’t want to jump in again at another short quote but the 11-time champion is prepared to cut his three-year-old a bit of slack.
After an impressive debut victory in March, Size thinks inexperience got the better of him last time out.
“That looks like the word that would describe it. It certainly felt like that watching the race live,” he said.
“It was on that day of racing where you had to be in a good position to win a race. Horses that were travelling three-deep or had to do a bit of work at any stage, they didn’t win. I think he’s got some small excuse there and hope if he takes a better position from gate four on Saturday he might run better.”
Even though he was beaten last start, the margin – a length and a half – wasn’t excessive and he’s likely to avoid a wide run in transit this time, particularly if True Legend and Super Ten go forward and set a solid tempo as expected.
“I think [he’ll get the right run]. There seems to be a little bit more speed in this one,” Size said. “There are a couple of horses that go up on the lead regularly and they’ll probably give him every chance to perform.
“He seems good. His health and his soundness have always been pretty good so I think with a bit of racing, he might perform better.”
There are high expectations of Gallant Express and while reluctant to pinpoint the level he could ultimately get to, Size knows there is some upside.
“I’m not sure about where he’s going to go but he’s certainly got some quality and I think he’ll improve next season, as all the three-year-olds will I suppose,” he said.
“But he’s got a good temperament, he’s sound, he seems in pretty good health and he’s made the adaptation to Hong Kong because he won his first start. I think he’s got a future.”
Size also saddles up last-start winner Red Desert in the day’s feature, the Class Two Carnation Handicap (1,650m) on the all-weather track.
The honest five-year-old prefers racing over shorter trips but given the lack of options for dirt specialists in Hong Kong he will try his luck over the extended mile.
“The 1,200m on the dirt track, he seems to relish that, that’s his race. The 1,650m, he’s always struggled a bit at the distance but it’s the correct surface for him and one day he might get away with one,” Size said.
“He’ll run well, he always does. It’s just the last 200m of the race, he doesn’t seem to have the stamina to finish it off.”
With 19 meetings remaining in the campaign, Size has 59 winners to lead the race for the trainers’ championship with Caspar Fownes (58), Frankie Lor Fu-chuen (53), Danny Shum Chap-shing (53) and Francis Lui Kin-wai (52) all nipping at his heels.
The 66-year-old needs one more title to break his tie with George Moore for the most in Hong Kong racing history but thinks the race remains wide open.
“I’ve never been confident about winning a championship,” he said. “There are five trainers that are in striking distance and I think anyone can win at this point.”