Trainer John Size had a four-strong team in Sunday’s $2.4 million Hong Kong Sprint (G1), led by the odds-on Mr Stunning, and came away with an historic exacta at Sha Tin. But the favorite had to fend off his least fancied stablemate, the 20-1 D B Pin, to earn his first Group 1 tally. Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) winner Stormy Liberal, carrying extra good will after his San Luis Rey home base was decimated by the wildfire, was a non-threatening 11th of 13.
Hong Kong’s highest rated horse going into Sunday’s International Races, Mr Stunning had won the April 9 Sprint Cup (G2) and his last pair of preps, the Premier Bowl (G2) and Jockey Club Sprint (G2). In his only prior Group 1 attempt, the Australian-bred son of Exceed and Excel had missed by a nose to Lucky Bubbles in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize (G1) back on May 7, and the betting market confidently expected him to accomplish that objective here.
Mr Stunning was well placed early by jockey Nash Rawiller, enjoying a textbook trip tracking early leaders Peniaphobia and Once in a Moon. With clear sailing into the stretch, the favorite was traveling smartly and appeared well on his way. But just as he took command, D B Pin was rallying wider out on the course. Mr Stunning responded to hold him safe while completing about six furlongs in 1:08.40.
“I had no intention of going near the rail at any stage,” Rawiller said. “It can change pretty quickly in a race like that, you only need them to steady a little bit and next minute, you’re in the worst spot in the race. Although it looks pretty going down the hill, it can end up being the biggest trap of all time.
“So I sat one-off (the fence), I was in a beautiful position with a bit of cover. The horse was in a lovely rhythm. They were talking about the racing gods the other day – well, this was in the hands of the racing gods, definitely.”
Rawiller was alluding to the fact that Mr Stunning drew post 4, while D B Pin received the less advantageous post 12.
“If he’d drawn 12 and D B Pin had got 4, who knows how it might have played out? I’m lucky I’m on a very good, if not an outstanding, horse. He might have won anyway! Today, he was always going to get to me and I was always going to be vulnerable the last 50 meters, but my bloke just kept doing what he needed to do.
“I thought there’d be more pressure than there was. I wasn’t too worried about them chasing me down. I was on the best horse at the equal weight. It’s been a long time coming, this one in Hong Kong (his first international Group 1 on this circuit), so it means a lot.”
Size also commented on the tale of trips influenced by the post positions.
“He’s had a lovely lead-up into the race,” last year’s record-setting champion trainer said. “His three runs were very good. He’s trained well and trialed well all the way through to today. He’s had every opportunity, he drew a good gate, he had a perfect run and Nash put him in a beautiful position so it was hard to see him being beaten from there.
“To D B Pin’s credit, though, he’s probably covered a lot of extra ground from the gate and he’s made him work for it. Both horses have run very well.”
Blizzard reported home third, while last year’s runner-up, Lucky Bubbles, was unable to duplicate that effort in fourth. Next came Amazing Kids from the Size yard; Let’s Go Donki; Thewizardofoz, who fared worst of the Size quartet; The Right Man; Peniaphobia; Not Listenin’tome; Stormy Liberal; Once in a Moon; and Signs of Blessing.
Stormy Liberal’s rider, Silvestre de Sousa, believed that the California shipper might have been off his game due to the long-distance travel.
“He was a little flat and might have been feeling the effects of the trip,” de Sousa said.
Maurice Koo Win Chong’s Mr Stunning lived up to his name straightaway with a terrific debut at Happy Valley in the winter of 2016. Brought along methodically through the ranks by Size, he didn’t try Group company until the aforementioned Sprint Cup, and proved himself ready for prime time. The bay gelding now sports a mark of 16-10-2-1.
Mr Stunning was produced by the Dayjur mare With Fervour, a full sister to Group 3 winner and multiple Group 1-placed With Fascination. They are in turn half-siblings to multiple Grade 1 star and $2.6 million-earner With Anticipation. Mr Stunning’s second dam is therefore multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Fran’s Valentine, the 1985 Kentucky Oaks (G1) heroine.
His cosmopolitan pedigree isn’t a foreshadowing of Mr Stunning’s plans, for Size intends to keep him at home.
“I’m not sure he’s got the constitution to travel, I’m not sure if he’s that tough,” his trainer said. “At home though, if he’s looked after in Hong Kong, he’ll keep racing well.”