Size strikes back in premiership tussle
Main rival Moore levels up with Magic Legend but Size takes the last two Wednesday night races with True Grit and Tornado Twist
John Size extended his slender lead in the trainer's premiership in the face of a John Moore assault at Happy Valley on Wednesday night.
One win separated Size and Moore at the start of Wednesday's nine-race card.
Moore drew level when Magic Legend ended a two-year losing streak but Size struck back with a double in the last two races, bringing the score to 76-74.
Sunday's 11-race Sha Tin finale will decide the outcome.
"It feels a little bit temporary to me but we'll keep trying," said Size, after re-taking the lead, aware of course that this weekend Moore will empty all that his arsenal still holds.
Size has led the championship for most of the season but Moore has upped the ante in recent weeks, chipping away at his rival's lead.
Before Wednesday, Size had saddled only two winners since June 16, while Moore had welcomed seven.
"John Size doesn't take it lightly," said Moore, after Magic Legend equalled the tallies at 74-74 with a 31/4-length win in Race 7, the Class 3 Silver Grecian Handicap over 1,200m.
There was jubilation in the Moore camp when Matthew Chadwick returned victorious, confidence buoyed by the knowledge that the stable was set to send out warm favourites in the night's remaining two races. But, even then, Moore was calling for restraint.
"We haven't won it yet. I don't want to count my chickens before they hatch," he said. "We're level now and it's going to go down to the wire. This is one hell of a trainer that I'm up against."
Sure enough, the defending champion struck right back.
True Grit responded to an indefatigable Joao Moreira drive, powering from last place, through a wide passage, to nail the Class 3 Sweet Orange Handicap over 1,800m by a neck.
Moore's Tashidelek was third.
"It's an amazing training performance with this horse, amazing what John Size has done with him to bring him from Class 4 all the way to Class 2 after tonight, in just three months," said Moreira.
True Grit's win was his fifth on the bounce. The four-year-old is now five from nine all told and once again lived up to his tough name despite his "unassuming" appearance.
"He's by a sire called Wanted and I'm guessing John Wayne's got something to do with the name," said Size, True Grit being one of the legendary actor's most famous films.
"He doesn't look like a horse that would win five in a row, he doesn't present like that, he doesn't even travel in a race like that. But he's obviously got an aptitude for racing and he seems to understand where the winning post is. He seems to arrive when it does and that's about all you want."
The Size team celebrated again when Tornado Twist dug deep for Moreira and fought his way to a neck win in the last, the Class 2 Sun Jewellery Handicap over 1,200m. Moore's Sunny Boy, the favourite, was only sixth.
"It's an incredible job by John Size and I'm very pleased to ride another winner for him - he's the guy," said the stable's retained jockey.
"Everyone knows that I'm backing him up, otherwise I'd have gone to being a freelance jockey by now.
"The competition between him and John Moore is outstanding for the sport and they both are amazing trainers. Whoever wins deserves it. I hope Size wins but, if John Moore wins, he will have deserved it."
When asked if he was enjoying the tussle for what he hopes will be his 11th champion trainer title, Size laughed, almost incredulous at the notion.
"No!" he said. "Every sport's the same, there's a winner and a loser, and a sportsman's life is like that from start to finish.
"I see a lot of individual players in many different sports under a lot of pressure because they have to do everything themselves, whereas a horse trainer actually has a team helping him so it's not so bad.
"Every day you pick up the paper and there are winners and losers. A sportsman's life, that's what it is and you have to endure it."
For champion jockey Zac Purton, he still needs five winners to break Moreira's record 170 winners in a Hong Kong season.
Purton arrived at the city track on Wednesday knowing that he must maintain his impressive momentum if he is to stand any chance of surpassing Moreira. The double took his tally to 166 winners.
The Australian, who sealed a sensational six-timer at Sha Tin last Sunday, was sharp off the mark in the opener.
He took the Class 4 Kings Falcon Handicap over 1,000m on Aquila. Then came a stunning ride on High Rev in Race 5, the Class 4 The King Handicap over 1,650m. - HKJC