Marcus lined up for Ionio
From JIM McGRATH in London
NEWMARKET trainer Clive Brittain is reserving the ride on Ionio in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup on April 1 for champion jockey Basil Marcus, the man who first won on the progressive four-year-old.
Brittain said that Marcus phoned him earlier this week, pointing out there was a distinct possibility he could be available to take the mount in Hong Kong's newest international race, to be run over 2,200 metres at Sha Tin.
'I'm 90 per cent sure that Basil will be able to ride Ionio,' said Brittain. 'And until I get a definite answer, I will be holding the mount for him.
'Basically, it makes a lot of sense to book him for the ride as he is one of the best jockeys in Hong Kong - and he won on the horse at Ascot as a two-year-old.' That win came in the seven-furlong EBF Sandwich Stakes on July 23, 1993, on the eve of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, won by the Michael Stoute-trained Opera House. It was Ionio's only run as a juvenile.
Ionio has apparently taken no harm from his outing at Lingfield Park on Saturday, when he scrambled home a decisive winner of a 2,000-metre race on the all-weather track on his seasonal debut.
'He lost 10 kilos with the race and the travelling but he has already put most of that back on and he seems to be thriving,' trainer Brittain reported.
'He was running very lazily at the finish, but Brett Doyle [his rider] was equal to the task and kept him going.
'It gave us all a bit of a thrill, but that run will do him the world of good. There are no plans to fit blinkers at this stage.' Ionio's long-term mission is the Japan Cup in November.
Brittain is never less than enthusiastic about his globetrotting stars, and he firmly believes Ionio, a son of Silver Hawk, could develop into one of his best.
'I hope he can take to the travelling and win in Hong Kong. We will give him a break mid-season and train him at the back-end for races such as the Rothmans International at Woodbine and the Japan Cup,' Brittain added.
Meanwhile, the BBC has underlined its committment to racing by negotiating a renewal of its exclusive contract to cover the Martell Grand National at Aintree for a further five years, taking it up to the year 2000. The contract covers both television and radio rights.
With average domestic viewing figures of around 16 million, the Grand National ranks as television's highest-rating sports event covered on a regular basis.
Last year's figure of 16.7 million put the race second only to the record 24 million audience for Torvill and Dean's one-off performance at the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer.