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By Graham Potter with Pat Duff | Saturday, December 23, 2017

John Size has carried all before him in the training ranks in both Australia and Hong Kong. A little known fact is that he was once apprenticed to Pat Duff in Brisbane and the veteran trainer was full of admiration for what Size has achieved since they roomed together all of those years ago not knowing what the future would bring. It’s Pat Duff’s story to tell.

“I moved down from a country area around Kingaroy in the late sixties and John came to me in what I would say would be 1970.

“He had previously had a little stint with a trainer outside Toowoomba and gave it away. He came down to Hatton Vale. His father had the Rusty’s Service Station there.

“At that particular time I was training as a private trainer at Rio Park outside the Gold Coast. I moved there for a short stint but I didn’t stay there long. I moved back to Eagle Farm ... and Doomben then. John came out and showed an interest in the horses.and he wanted to try again as a jockey.

“Shortly after that, Larry Olsen who was apprenticed to Jack Wilson. I didn’t have a house or a wife at the time and we lived in the boy’s room at the stable. There was Larry Olsen, myself and Johnny Size. It wasn’t the most comfortable set up. I remember the room I had was right behind a horse stall and the horse used to kick every night ... so I was kept awake.

We were there and John worked for me. He then went through to put in his papers to do his apprenticeship with me but, when was then sixteen or seventee, he shot up. He had always been tall but he was very light, then all of a sudden he went up to 54kg.

He had several trials but, in those years, there was s set limit and if they were over that weight they couldn’t go on. So John finally gave away that idea and didn’t go on to race ride, but he stayed with me as a stable-hand until such time as I moved to Toowoomba in the early seventies, about 1973 or 1974.

John wanted to stay on in Brisbane so he then went to Henry Davis and worked for Henry Davis for a quite a time. In the period of time he worked for Henry, Henry got disqualified. He had several nice horses and John took over the training of them.

One of the horses he had there was Our Cavalier which the owner didn’t want with John because, in those days, if you didn’t hold a number one license you could only train at Doomben ... and the owner didn’t want his horse trained at Doomben. He said the cinders track was too hard.

John rang me and said I think I can get the horse for you. He introduced me to the owner and hence, thanks to John, I got to train Our Cavalier who turned out to be a great horse.

That wasn’t the easiest time for John though. It was a mixed bag because Henry returned to training and John was made semi-redundant. It was only when Henry moved to Melbourne that John made a new opportunity for himself.

He took out a trainer’s license in his own ... and the rest, as they say, is history ... and he has earned every bit of the success he has had.

I would like to think that in those early days he did learn a bit from me and a lot from Henry about feeding horses and the like. Also, a man called Jim Sheehan was an older person around the stables when John was a kid with me.

Jim had been the master of Neville Selwood and George Moore and I rate him as one of the top horseman I’ve seen and John would have learnt a lot from him ... but John always had the attributes to make a top trainer.

He works hard ... that is a given. He is great with horses ... which is a must ... but, as a horse trainer, there are a multitude of things you have to handle at once ... horses, owners etc ... and John was a cool customer.

He had a laid back attitude which saw him cope well where others might have struggled.

Of course, as we all know now, as he went on he started to achieve in Brisbane ... enough to get a good horse. He went to Sydney and then he quickly made his way from there.

I recall when he went to Sydney John was very big on swimming horses. I used to like swimming horses and so did Henry, but a lot of trainers there, including Tommy Smith, didn’t believe in swimming horses. They had an adage that you don’t have swimming races, you have running races ... but I think John quickly showed them the way to go there.

John is a well met person but there can be no doubt his real love is his horses and therein I think lies the core reason why John has gone on to do what he has done.

If you go back to John, Larry and I in the boy’s room all that time ago, it is just one of those amazing things how it all unfolded for John (and for Larry, of course). The more amazing thing is how John made the most of every opportunity he has been received.

Perhaps one of the highest accolade I can give John is that he wasn’t born the son of a top trainer or handed a string of top horses.

Everything has been of his own doing, a feat which highlights his natural, great feeling for a horse and his willingness and commitment to learn the things he did not know and the intelligence to then refine those strategies and stamp his own mark on it.

I have worked a lot of top apprentices ... and a lot of not so top apprentices ... and I have to say the things I have noticed about the ones that have made in racing is that they are gifted with a certain feel.

It is like a horse, it doesn’t matter how you train it if it hasn’t got it, it won’t go on to win at Group 1 level.

A guy like John, in the role of a race horse trainer, he has just got it!

He is a top horseman. He just loves doing what he was doing. He will spend hours and hours with his horses and hour of hours on selecting races for them. My old boss used to say, training them is one thing. Placing them is the most important thing.

John has got both of those bases covered.

We have remained friends throughout and it was such a pleasure to catch up with him in Hong Kong recently and see a man at the top of his game so happy and content in both his personal and professional life.

He has earned it.

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John Size
John Size
John Size at the presentation after Mr Stunning had won the LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint
John Size at the presentation after Mr Stunning had won the LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint
Nash Rawiller celebrates Mr Stunning's victory

Photos: Graham Potter
Nash Rawiller celebrates Mr Stunning's victory

Photos: Graham Potter
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