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INDEPENDENT HORSE RACING NEWS
If the Hong Kong Jockey Club wants high-performing trainers who produce ‘world-class’ horses then why was John Moore pushed out the door two seasons ago? asks Michael Cox.
The question many Hong Kong racing fans were asking when it was announced this week that John Size would be the first trainer given the opportunity to train beyond 70 was “how must John Moore be feeling right now?”
Two years ago Moore was forced into retirement from Hong Kong racing at age 70 despite still being near the top of his game. That was after already being given a five-year extension based on performance criteria, metrics that seemed so tailored to the big race specialist that they were dubbed ‘The John Moore Rule’. Top five wins, or top five prizemoney: they were targets the safari-suited Moore could shoot down with ease, particularly the latter.
Size, three years younger than Moore, was a beneficiary as he continued beyond the former retirement age of 65, but Tuesday’s Jockey Club licensing announcement to offer another extension to trainers on the eve of Size’s 68th birthday, is essentially ‘The John Size Rule’.
John Size and Joao Moreira. (Photo by Getty Images)
The new benchmarks are far more convoluted than the Moore rule – they allow high achievers to push on to age 75 – but Size should clear them easily and he could conceivably train for seven more seasons.
An extra seven seasons will see Size cruise past his rival Moore for most wins of all time, which will sting enough, and it makes Size surpassing Moore’s father George for most titles seem like a gimme, but the real hammer blow is the way it contrasts with the manner in which Moore was left out of the Club’s future vision.
As his final five years counted down, Moore’s lobbying for another extension – which included support from major owners – was rejected on the basis of ‘consistency’ and ‘not moving the goalposts’.
’“The Club made it clear towards the end of last season that the existing policy on age limits needs to be applied consistently and will be in the case of John Moore,” said HKJC executive Andrew Harding in 2019 when unveiling David Hayes as Moore’s replacement, and again: “I think it’s a matter of having set goalposts and then applying the policy consistently,” Harding said.
“One thing that is very important is that everyone is treated fairly, the goalposts were set in 2013, they were clearly known and they are consistently applied.”
John Moore holds court with Japanese media.
Obviously a lot has changed in the world – and specifically Hong Kong – since 2019, but what has happened for the goalposts to be uprooted and planted downfield so suddenly?
This week’s announcement included a statement from Harding that indicated the new rules were in response to the Club’s mainland expansion and move to ‘regular racing’ at Conghua Racecourse. He explained that a 400-horse expansion would establish “a triangle of racing across our three racecourses.”
“Between now and the end of 2030 we will permanently expand the footprint of the Club’s racing, and at the same time carry out some of the most large-scale capital works projects ever undertaken,” he said.
Aside from some minor details, this plan doesn’t sound new, but clearly Moore wasn’t part of the long-term vision.
It could be argued that in this instance, the Club needed to move in response to a generational crisis of sorts in the training ranks, with 11 trainers aged 60 or over.
Golden Sixty’s trainer Francis Lui (63) and 2019-20 champion Ricky Yiu (64) were both granted five-year extensions beyond next season based on performance.
The HKJC has also responded to the generational challenge by appointing two new trainers with youth on their side, New Zealand trainer Jamie Richards (32) and Pierre Ng (38).
Peter Ng proud as punch as Pierre fulfils destiny
None of this is new though, for officials who think in terms of decades not years.
Regardless, for all of the Club’s grand plans, you can’t help but think Hong Kong racing is worse off for Moore’s absence as a trainer and the fact he was pushed out is puzzling when placed in the context of those plans.
This week, Harding talked about the importance of ‘high-performing and elite trainers’ who produce high quality horses to add to the Club’s “strategic objective of world-class racing, and provide this level of services to owners whose investments are key to the quality of our racing.”
If this is what is important – training world-class horses – then nobody in the history of Hong Kong was, or is, better at that than John Moore.
Size may have won more championships than Moore – 11 to his compatriot’s five – but Moore has trained many more champions.
Moore trained the Horse Of The Year winner for seven straight years before his final campaign, among nine overall, while Size has prepared just two, and none for 20 years.
Moore won the Hong Kong Derby six times to Size’s three and has won 33 Group One races to Size’s 17 at Sha Tin.
There is also Moore’s role as a statesman for Hong Kong racing. His Group 1 successes in Dubai and Singapore helped put Hong Kong on the map. In contrast, Size is yet to win away from home as a Hong Kong trainer.
Able Friend, one of John Moore's many champion gallopers. (Photo by HKJC)
Despite his quirks, or maybe even in part because of them, Moore was also a media personality and popular with the local press. He made a habit of making himself available after every race win and would hold impromptu pressers for the visiting Japanese media over breakfast each year at the Hong Kong International races.
Size is a reluctant interview and the local press find him inaccessible.
This is not to denigrate Size’s tremendous achievements. Nor does it diminish his skill at maximising the potential of a horse and unmatched ability to obtain consistent performances. The confidence Size instills in punters is key to a turnover machine like Hong Kong.
Yet if the Club really wanted the ‘world-class’ bona fides and international recognition it craves, it might have been better served making a rule for both Johns.
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