History tells us several notable things about Hong Kong trainers. It suggests reaching the top is tough; it reveals that those who get close to the summit often stay there; and it tells us the elite are rewarded in a way which makes the hard work well worthwhile.
John Moore, John Size and Tony Cruz have saddled more than 4,000 Hong Kong winners between them – for combined total prize money of an astonishing £470m – and remain dominant forces at the top level.
However, the week-to-week picture has changed somewhat of late, with Jimmy Ting making a flying start to his rookie season and Frankie Lor beginning to look like the next major star of the Hong Kong training scene.
Logic suggests Size will assert on his way to an eleventh title in 2019, but the race for the prize is more open than normal with well over half of the season still to run.
Size’s world-weary countenance masks one of the sharpest minds ever to operate on the Hong Kong circuit. Having made his name in Sydney, Size won his first title in his debut season and has added nine more, the latest when saddling 87 winners of a record £17.5m in prize money last term.
Any type of horse can thrive under Size’s patient tutelage but his excellence with speed horses who come to him unraced is illustrated by the fact that four of Hong Kong’s top five sprinters – namely D B Pin, Ivictory, Beat The Clock and Hot King Prawn - are all trained by him. The other member of that quintet is Mr Stunning – who was also with Size until moving down the road to Frankie Lor last summer!
Moore is Hong Kong racing royalty with the charisma to match. The son of a famous trainer and involved since the professional era began in 1971, he has had an astonishing career. He has more winners (well over 1600) and more prize money (pushing £200m) than any other trainer and is responsible for the last six horses to be crowned Hong Kong’s Horse of the Year, including current star Beauty Generation.
Moore’s methods differ to Size in that he relies heavily on transfer buys with proven form abroad (Private Purchases) more than unraced horses (Privately Purchased Griffins) and unlike his great rival he is a natural in front of the camera. Now a very youthful 68 with a wide selection of silk safari suits, he will be forced to retire at 70 under the current rules and will leave a gap that is very hard to fill.
Cruz was a world-class rider - winning six Hong Kong titles and gaining European fame on top-class French filly Triptych – and has been near the peak of the Hong Kong training profession for many years.
Known for his “go with the flow” attitude, he has a bold training approach which has yielded almost 1200 winners heading into 2019 with a long list of stars including top-class sprinter Silent Witness, who won 17 races in a row between 2002 and 2005.
The mercurial Pakistan Star has put his name in lights more recently, while a sure touch with European imports has yielded G1 success for ex-Sir Mark Prescott galloper Time Warp and Hong Kong Vase winner Exultant, who was known as Irishcorrespondent when third in Churchill’s Irish Guineas for Michael Halford.
As assistant to both Moore and latterly Size, Hong Kong’s most promising trainer had the sort of racing education money can’t buy. And Frankie Lor clearly learned a huge amount from both of his mentors judged on a record-breaking rookie season and a highly impressive start to his second.
Lor broke Size’s record for most winners in a first season with 65 when runner-up in the table to his old boss last term. Many of those wins were in routine contests, but Lor has scaled new heights this term and followed his first G1 success with a swift second strike at the top level when Mr Stunning (formerly trained by Size) and Glorious Forever landed the LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint and Cup on the same historic day in December.
Shum was a journeyman jockey but, like Frankie Lor, has made a much more significant impression as a trainer. His spell as assistant to multiple Hong Kong champion Ivan Allan stood him in good stead for a solid career which has yielded well over 500 winners including several at a high level.
Thumbs Up and Scintillation both won in high-class company for Shum, while Seasons Bloom became his latest G1 scorer by landing last season’s Stewards’ Cup. Shum is also a member of a very exclusive club as his one and only Royal Ascot runner Little Bridge scored a notable Hong Kong success when landing the King’s Stand Stakes under Zac Purton in 2012.
Learned his trade as assistant to his hugely popular father Lawrie and has since been Hong Kong’s champion trainer three times. Fownes is very much his father’s son, competing hard at every level but never losing sight of the fact that racing is a sport and that owners need to enjoy every aspect of their experience as much as possible.
Careful planning goes into finding the right race for each horse and Fownes has long been known as ‘King of the Valley’ for his ability to prime a horse to peak under the lights at Hong Kong’s spectacular city venue. High-class miler Southern Legend is the current stable star but Rise High – unbeaten in two for Ken Condon in Ireland – isn’t far behind and looks poised to make his mark in some good races in 2019.
Acted as assistant to various Hong Kong trainers – including a five-year spell with Danny Shum – before being granted his own licence at the start of this season.
As with most rookie handlers, most of his early runners have been relatively low-grade recruits from other local stables. However, the results have been very encouraging, with over 20 winners in the first third of the season at a strike rate (19%) that augurs very well indeed for the future.
Millard is a son of the legendary multiple South African champion handler Terrance Millard and landed his the title twice, along with 39 G1 prizes, while training in his homeland.
The switch to Hong Kong yielded a rich dividend as Keen Winner gave Millard a Derby winner in his first season, while Ambitious Dragon’s string of big wins saw him crowned Horse of the Year twice. Now 57, Millard tends to have fewer runners than most but is known for turning them out in peak condition. He started this season very strongly and ended the year one shy of his 600th career success in Hong Kong.