Icta sets Marcus' campaign in motion
SHA Tin hath no fury like a champion jockey scorned.
That much was plain for all to see as the former multiple champion, Basil Marcus, and Viva Icta merrily gatecrashed what was supposed to be Makarpura Star's comeback party, the feature Kwangtung Handicap Cup at the stifling New Territories venue yesterday.
It was also plain from Marcus' words in the weighing-room after racing.
'Kill, ruthless, angry' - they tripped off his tongue as he left everyone in no doubt that he is a man on a mission.
He wants that title back from Tony Cruz and he wants it badly.
Marcus was always travelling sweetly on Centurion Trophy winner Viva Icta.
They were positively jogging as Dashing led the field off the bottom corner and when Marcus said go, Viva Icta, taking full advantage of the 19 pounds he was receiving from Makarpura Star, swooped past the 100-30 on favourite to win impressively by 11/2 lengths.
There was a further 11/4 lengths back to the ever-consistent Right Way in third.
There was even a victory salute from a normally much less demonstrative Marcus who, when pressed on his punching of the air and celebratory wave of his whip, replied: 'You guys know how much I hate finishing second. I was second far too many times for my liking last season which is why today's victory was so sweet.
'As I passed the line I was already thinking I'd got one back in the race for the title which is my over-riding aim this season.
'I feel ruthless. I was angry in my own way about losing out to Tony last season, even though I gave it my very best shot.' Marcus then added with a smile: 'Kill. That's me. I'm out there hunting winners even more than ever.' There should be more good wins to come from the Peter Ng Bik-kuen-trained Viva Icta who is poised to develop into one of the best milers in training.
The question is who will ride him next? Will it be Marcus or will it be his old sparring partner Cruz? The irony about yesterday's win was that Cruz gave up the mount on Viva Icta as he was riding Derby winner Makarpura Star.
Last season, Viva Icta was an outstanding winner of the Centurion Trophy for Cruz and Ng.
The English import earned rave views as he scored by over six lengths.
Yesterday's triumph in the Kwangtung Cup would have rehabilitated his reputation.
The Centurion form has not worked out, though it's hard to do more than win by over six lengths, and Viva Icta was then an odds-on flop in the Piaget Gold Cup.
'I've got a feeling that the pace of the race didn't suit him in the Piaget,' Marcus said.
'It was over 1,800 metres and maybe they just slowed the pace down so much for him to be able to quicken in the way that he can.
'I'm sure he stays 1,800 metres all right but it is more a question of which distance he is most effective at.
'I would say that he is best at a mile. The tempo of the race suits him that much better.
'They go that much faster, he can settle and then come with his late burst. Peter [Ng] told me today that whatever I did, I wasn't to bustle him along in the early stages, just let him find his feet of his own accord.
'So I was pleasantly surprised to be going so well on the turn and just followed Makarpura Star through.
'You wouldn't know what Viva Icta can do from riding him in work as he is such a laid-back, relaxed individual. But I've seen him run enough times and know the way he quickens in his races.
'From the top of the straight I was just waiting to ask him to go. When I did he did it very well.' Far from being disappointed by Makarpura Star's defeat, Cruz was in an upbeat mood last night, especially as Viva Icta equalled Right Way's Class One record time of one minute, 34 seconds for the sandmesh mile at Sha Tin.
'Three factors were against him. Firstly the weight, secondly the ground and thirdly the distance,' stressed Cruz.
'Viva Icta and Right Way had no weight on their backs when running the Class One record. That is probably the most important factor.' The bald time of the race, though, doesn't mean too much as the track was on fire throughout the day with most winners clocking exceptionally fast times. It remains to be seen how Tony Harbidge rates Viva Icta and Makarpura Star's efforts when he produces his going and weight-adjusted Topspeed figures later in the week.
Electric Flash, a neck second to Makarpura Star in the Derby and now 12 pounds better off, had been expected to give the Horse Of The Year a stern test.
Piere Strydom gave Electric Flash every chance but there was nothing there when Strydom asked for a final effort which, to some extent, may be explained by the post-race vet's report which stated that Electric Flash was lame in his off fore.