Marcus on a roll with Mr Vitality
By Racing Editor LAWRENCE WADEY
CRACK Australian import Mr Vitality further justified his enormous reputation when anchoring a treble for championship-chasing Basil Marcus and his trainer Ivan Allan at Sha Tin yesterday. The Golden Slipper fourth and Blue Diamond Stakes second placed youngster powered away from Champman River and Flying High to take the Sassoon Challenge Cup by 13/4 lengths and a short head. Allan will stick to the game plan mapped out during Mr Vitality's three-month break from racing.
He's going to keep the imposing son of Snippets at 1,200 metres for next month's Chairman's Prize - the end of season sprint championship - before pushing him up to a mile and a clash with the very best three-year-olds in training in the Sha Tin Vase. Allan, in typically self-effacing style, went on to dismiss his chances of retaining his trainers' title but Marcus' attitude could not have been more different. His treble lifted him to 39 winners and put him just four behind leader Tony Cruz.
Not surprising the indomitable South African hoop left the track all smiles, declaring: 'I'm right back in the championship firing line. I think I'm on a roll and am really looking forward to the closing meetings.' Marcus, like Cruz, has that rare sporting ability with which only champions are blessed. When the pressure is on, he performs better. He thrives on it. He added: 'I'm really looking forward to the closing meetings of the season. I will be working really hard and chasing every ride I can get.' Marcus can say that again. He was in riding work last Sunday and again on Wednesday morning which are habitual rest days for most riders.
His other winners came from Allan's heavily-backed Regal Ridge, who had been set specifically for the sixth event and won gamely from the quality English import Pine Fame who is worth following, and from Winning Wave with whom Chris Cheung Ting-pong did an excellent job to get to score after nearly 10 months off the track. Allan's treble was completed by In The Picture who benefited from a searching pace in the local riders' event to swamp the market leaders, Zeus and Golden Era, in the closing 50 metres. Allan is now on 33 winners and seven behind John Moore who was on the mark in the final event with Flirting Dancer.
'I don't think I have a chance of retaining my title as the leaders are just too far clear,' Allen said. 'What's more important for me is that the horses I thought would run well today did so. 'Mr Vitality did well to win as 1,200 metres is basically too short for him. But he was fresh, that helped. 'Let's hope I can keep him fresh enough for the Chairman's Prize as while he really wants longer to show his full ability, it is a set-weights affair which will benefit him and the race is too valuable and prestigious to ignore. 'After that, providing all goes well, the mile of the Sha Tin Vase should be much more suitable.' As for Regal Ridge, Allan added: 'He'd had a problem with a hoof. That was sorted out and I really put the work into him for today's race. 'I was a bit worried when Pine Fame came past him with about 300 metres to run but he stuck and won well in the end. 'I was also tremendously happy for the owner that In The Picture won today. He's been really patient and a great owner to train for.' Marcus prevailed in the very last bound on Winning Wave for Cheung, short-heading Make Merry in the process.
It was Marcus at his never-say-die best, taking full advantage of some bad luck in running which probably cost Make Merry victory. The favourite was held up round the bend at a vital stage leaving jockey Gary Stevens to comment: 'It was a very big run in the circumstances as I had to steady all round the bend. 'I had to stop-start him too many times and it cost us in the end.' In The Picture was well ridden by Allan's claimer Peter Y.S. Wong who continues to improve and is excellent value for his seven-pound allowance, especially in these local riders' events.