John Size has been Hong Kong champion trainer 11 times and already wears the mantle of an ‘all-time great’ and among his 1,222 Hong Kong career wins two have come in the toughest arena of all, the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races.
The handler heads into this year’s edition on Sunday (8 December) with a strong hand, including no less than five runners in the LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint. And should the dashing grey Hot King Prawn emerge from that quintet to take the spoils, it would surely rank among Size’s finest achievements.
“He’s been fine I haven’t seen anything in him to suggest that he has any residual problem since the procedure that he had. Racing was going to be his test and he raced quite well the other day – I’m not concerned about him,” Size said.
Hot King Prawn suffered a bout of colic in February, which required surgery and wiped out half of last season and slowed his return to the track this campaign.
But Size believes that the time is now for the exciting sprinter who has won nine of 12 starts and is now in his fourth Hong Kong season at age five.
Eight horses of that age have won Hong Kong’s premiere sprint contest across the race’s 20 year history, and the trainer is looking to add the Denman gelding’s name to that list.
“He’s an interesting horse for the race because he’s the right age and it’s possible that we haven’t seen his best yet,” Size said.
Hot King Prawn won all three starts in the lead-up to last year’s LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) – the Group 3 National Day Cup (1000m), Group 2 Premier Bowl (1200m) and the Group 2 Jockey Club Sprint, installing him as a dominant market pick in the 1200m feature where he faded to ninth.
“I know he had 12 career starts but he went around as a 2.1 favourite in this race last season – so the public expected him to be able to improve on his previous figures,” Size said.
“He won three races to get that figure to get into that race last season – so we probably burned a bit of energy doing that, he was four but now he’s at a stronger age as far as sprinters are concerned, so he might be able to do a little bit better either this run or the next run,” Size said.
Size’s patient approach with the grey paid off with a smart seasonal return. A refreshed Hot King Prawn finished second behind Aethero in last month’s Group 2 Jockey Club Sprint.
“My approach with them is that we just give them the time they need – we gave him four months to recover with no work and then we brought him up steadily,” Size said.
Karis Teetan will partner Hot King Prawn in Sunday’s test but even if the gelding is not successful, his handler doesn’t expect his window of opportunity to close.
“I’m hopeful that if he can’t win this race that he can win a race of this calibre throughout the season,” Size said.
The Australian Racing Hall of Famer trained Mr Stunning to victory in the 2017 edition of this race, while his other HKIR win came with Glorious Days when racing first-up, no less, in the 2013 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile.