Marcus strikes it rich on the Sha Tin dirt
THE old and the new took centre stage at last night's Sha Tin all-weather meeting and that's the way it's likely to be on many more occasions this season.
Former triple champion jockey Basil Marcus ran out an easy winner of the opening event on the lightning fast dirt track, helping to get the popular local handler Peter Ng Bik-kuen off the mark for the season with Excel Treasure.
Marcus then required all his vigour to snatch victory in the last stride of the last race of the night when Mr Zillionaire stormed home from a seemingly hopeless position on the corner to catch the 99-1 bolter Eternal Harmony. In the process he broke Ivan Allan's duck for the campaign.
And new boy, first-season handler David Hayes, a five-time former champion trainer in Melbourne and Adelaide, saddled a revitalised Tim's Joy to snatch victory under the talented visiting South African jockey Pierre Strydom in the fifth.
For Hayes it was win number two, though he has gone on record as saying he is taking a medium-term view and will not have his team fully primed until the last few months of the season.
But Marcus has made no bones about his desire to hit the traps running and to try to make every post a winning one in his quest to wrestle his title from Tony Cruz.
Marcus was always travelling well enough just off the speed in the opener and only had to push out Excel Treasure for a 21/4-length defeat of Solar Century.
The pugnacious hoop was also travelling pretty well as he left the track. 'That's six winners for the season and counting,' he smiled.
Considering that Allan, his retaining trainer, is an habitually slow starter and has said he won't have his string in peak form for a number of meetings yet, Marcus has done well to notch those six wins.
'It's been just the start I was looking for. I couldn't have wished for things to have gone better,' Marcus added.
'But there's no way I'm resting on my laurels. I'll be out there as hungry as ever on Saturday night because I don't mind telling you again - I want my title back.' Strydom, Marcus' accomplished countryman and himself a triple champion in his homeland, has made a very favourable impression during the opening exchanges with his stalking tactics. He came from off the pace again on Hayes' Tim's Joy in the fifth, though this time he had been niggling at the veteran grey handicapper from virtually the word go.
It was only in the final 200 metres that the courageous Tim's Joy started to run through his rivals as the searing early pace set by Hercules, Dashing Dragon, All-Winners and Third Time Lucky, began to take its almost inevitable toll.
On the line Tim's Joy had shot 13/4 lengths clear of Dashing Dragon and Third Time Lucky who both did well to hold on for second, given the fierce pace up front.
Hayes said: 'I told Piere that while I'm a real a fan of the way he rides so cold this was one occasion where he had to keep at his mount.
'He did it perfectly as he kept Tim's Joy up to the mark but didn't get involved in a speed battle.
'If he'd done that he wouldn't have been able to finish off the race because they went really hard in front.' The fourth odds-on chance of the season was duly turned over when Heading To Win was caught close home by the Lawrie Fownes-trained Gold Venture who came from way behind under Lance O'Sullivan in the second.