Sunday’s Sha Tin meeting could prove to be a pivotal one in deciding the trainers’ championship with the contest between Caspar Fownes and John Size delicately poised.
The former has a four-win advantage (69 to 65) and the elastic could snap if the margin stretches much further with just nine meetings to go.
Over the past five seasons, Size has averaged 7.8 winners across June and July – typically, he tapers off after doing the bulk of his damage during the middle stages of the season.
The 11-time champion is yet to open his account in June, which means he can’t afford to slip much further behind if he is going to chase down his rival and break his deadlock with George Moore and set a new benchmark for trainers’ titles in Hong Kong.
In contrast, Fownes is usually quite strong in the back-end of the campaign and actually averages eight winners in June and July, despite having 142 fewer winners than Size overall (373 to 231) in the previous five seasons.
He already has three victories this month and looks set to finish the campaign on a strong note again as he chases his fourth championship. You know he will leave no stone unturned.
So Size needs to get a wriggle on and he takes a team of nine to Sha Tin this weekend, headlined by debutant Blaze Warrior.
The three-year-old son of Sebring has had an unusual preparation, having arrived in Hong Kong more than a year ago.
It is unlikely any other trainer would have shown the restraint Size has, giving him a total of 14 barrier trials before taking him to the races, while he’s also had two stints in Conghua.
That patience looks set to be rewarded with Blaze Warrior flashing his ability in his two most recent hit-outs and finding a pretty moderate race in the Class Four Lido Handicap (1,200m).
In those trials the youngster normally settled just behind the speed so Joao Moreira will need to perform some magic to find some cover after drawing awkwardly in barrier 10.
The Dennis Yip Chor-hong-trained Fire Ball looks to be the main danger with Zac Purton taking the ride from the inside alley, while Douglas Whyte’s Harmony Win Win can improve down in class with the added advantage of Jerry Chau Chun-lok’s five-pound claim.
Beyond Blaze Warrior, Size will saddle up three other debutants in Determined, Dashing Fit and Salutation, who could surprise but are not as forward as their stablemate.
Beauty Fit returns to the course and distance of his victory two starts back in the Class Three Kiu Tsui Handicap (1,600m), while Red Desert gets his preferred trip and surface when carrying top weight in the day’s feature, the Class Two Cheung Sha Handicap (1,200m) on the dirt.
His other runners – Red Titan, Raging Blaze and Aerosonic – are only outside chances.
If Size doesn’t have any success at the meeting, Fownes can really tighten the screws in the title fight as he looks capable of having a couple of winners of his own.
Recent stable transfer Telecom Missile looks capable of saluting in the second race if he jumps cleanly, Seven Heavens and Serious Liaison are both last-start winners while Kurpany narrowly missed last time out in his first run on the dirt and is set to be in the mix again.