END OF A GLORIOUS ERA

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 April, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 April, 2000, 12:00am
 

Basil Marcus, the professionals' professional, arrived here in August 1990 as a relatively unheralded 33-year-old South African jockey. He leaves at the end of this season as a legend, his record forever etched into the annals of local racing history.


No one - no other jockey, no other trainer, not even the great River Verdon himself - has achieved more in the past decade of racing than this utterly dedicated, utterly diligent and utterly determined naturalised South African who left the then Rhodesia at the age of seven and will soon be bound for a new challenge and a fresh start in England.


Marcus was immediately a winner in Hong Kong, taking the first feature event of the season, the traditional Kwangtung Cup on Craig's Dragon for retaining trainer Lam Hung-fie at Happy Valley way back on September 15, the opening day of the 1990 season.


Marcus had also won on his very first ride when he went to England in the summer of that same year.


He was champion apprentice in the third year of his five-year apprenticeship in South Africa and in the last two years of that apprenticeship, aged just 19, he was also the Cape Town champion.


He was then three times the Natal champion and for the last 11 years of his South African career he was never out of the top four.


When scoring on Craig's Dragon, Marcus asked for no quarter and gave none.


His only danger was the Tony Ives-ridden favourite, Financial Leader, over the Valley's old 1,235-metre trip.


The stipes' report from that meeting reads '. . . as Craig's Dragon improved on Financial Leader's outside, this resulted in Financial Leader becoming unbalanced and losing ground'.


Marcus had won the race on the first bend. It was hard and tough but also clever, well executed riding, perfectly suited to Hong Kong's tracks.


As an owner, a trainer or a punter, it would be hard to wish for more from a rider.


That was the first taste of his uncompromising attitude on the course, his insatiable commitment to winning.


Marcus' commitment and talent have resulted in seven championships in the past nine seasons and when he hasn't won, he's been second.


He's set a record number of winners in a season - 98 when beating Douglas Whyte to the title the season before last, he was the first professional jockey to ride a five-timer at Happy Valley and he's been the rider of the four horses most identified with racing over the past decade.


Think of River Verdon, Mr Vitality, Oriental Express and Indigenous and think of Marcus.


But these mounts and the subsequent headline success were not gifted to Marcus. No jockey has ever worked harder for his rides or studied the form more assiduously.


Racing here, though, is not all about the River Verdons.


Few jockeys, perhaps only Tony Cruz and Gary Moore, the other multiple champions, have become such firm favourites with punters, as well as trainers and owners.


Marcus' incredible single-mindedness has seen him punching and pushing for all he's worth in that distinctive bobbing style of his in a Class Six event in the pouring rain during a mundane midweek meeting on the dirt.


For trainers, owners and punters, he has been the best value for money in town by a furlong for the past 10 years. You couldn't wish for more than to have B. Marcus next to your horse's name.


Fearless, committed, uncompromising. From Class One to Class Six. From the grass to the dirt. They have all come alike to Marcus. They have all meant the same thing: there is a race and it's there for the winning.


This is the nature of the man. He lives to win.


Those jockeys in England will wake up to the idea very soon because, if they don't, the only thing they'll be seeing of Marcus is his backside.


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