Jockeying for position
THERE'S always a heightened air of expectation surrounding the goldfish bowl that is Hong Kong racing at this time of year.
With summer closing in and only a handful of meetings remaining, thousands of punters are sweating over form guides in search of iron-clad 'bankers' to help fund those off-season distractions. But this time around their quest seems less complicated than usual.
And the reason? Two names: Marcus and Whyte. 'Bustling' Basil and 'Demon' Douglas - the marquee names of the only game in town.
The prolific pair have simply bludgeoned their opposition this season and are locked in the fiercest fight for riding honours in living memory.
A quick look at the figures paints a frightening picture for their rivals. After Wednesday's Sha Tin struggle - at which Whyte (73) drew an uncharacteristic blank - Marcus has 77 winners to lead the hunt by four. But their nearest chaser - the admirable English pilot Brett Doyle - is on 40, with almost half as many wins as the leading duo.
To put their achievements in historical perspective, consider this. The record tally for a single season is held by Gary Moore at 87. Moore set that benchmark in the season of 1979-80 at the zenith of his considerable powers and he finished the campaign with a flourish, pulling some 44 victories clear of his nearest challenger.
This season both Marcus and Whyte are odds-on to shatter Moore's marvellous mark.
It's true, there are many more races each season than there were in those heady pre-Shanghai Syndicate days.
The other side of the coin is that the riding ranks of today have far more depth of talent and the competition for quality mounts is hotter than it has ever been. Owners and trainers are spoiled for choice.
So it's a testimony to their skill, professionalism and tenacity that Marcus and Whyte have so dominated such a talented field. And it's this sort of white-hot competition that brings out the champion qualities in sportsmen, which Marcus and Whyte possess in spades.
Some would argue that five-time champion Marcus has the edge now that the David Hayes stable is charging back in to form, but Whyte has trailed by more in the past only to regain the lead.
Either way, their twice-weekly exchanges are an engrossing sub-plot to the season's final acts.
And the whole drama took on an added frisson last week with the revelation that Whyte would be joining the Ivan Allan camp next term.
Allan has carried all before him over the past few years, culminating in an historic home success with Oriental Express in last month's Queen Elizabeth II Cup.
Whyte, of course, was at the helm and this potent pairing pitted against Hayes and Marcus already has mouths watering in anticipation. Until then, sit back and enjoy the show.