'I picked this race out a while ago so I'm very pleased to see a plan like that come off' - trainer Lane
The King of Happy Valley, jockey Basil Marcus, had an unaccustomed roller coaster card last night before finally setting his crown right again in the final event. Marcus ended up with only four mounts for the evening and had a story to tell after each.
The South African copped a dressing down from trainer David Hayes after Fun Manager went down narrowly in the opening race, then replaced an ill Stephen Baster on I Win in the fourth only to see the horse scratched behind the barrier with tendon problems.
When Fortune Maker had to settle for second to Marcus' first choice, Victory Master, in the sixth, the famous grin must have trembled just a little. But the unstoppable Marcus teamed up with in-form trainer Geoff Lane in the last to bring home Silent Partner for a winner and a happy ending.
'I thought it was just not my night until then,' Marcus smiled after unsaddling Silent Partner. 'David told me I should have pressed on to lead in the first and, if I had, I'm sure Fun Manager would have won the race. And then Victory Master had 113 pounds and it was just one pound too much and I couldn't make the weight. If he'd had even 114 I would have ridden him at 116 but riding 115 would have been just too much.'
With the late scratching of the obvious pacemaker Golden Bell on the vet's advice, most expected Basil Marcus to fill the leadership void with Fun Manager, including Hayes. Marcus charged from the six gate and led but was never quite able to get across to the rail and dictate the race as Robbie Fradd kept pushing Spectacular Win up inside Fun Manager's hindquarters on the fence.
'I never felt I was going quite good enough to go on and cross,' Marcus said. 'Every time I went a bit quicker and looked to cross the horse on the inside, Spectacular Win pushed up and went a little bit faster again too.'
The tactic by Fradd on Spectacular Win not only made Fun Manager work but allowed Fradd to slide through and take the lead again on rounding the corner. In a slogging finish, the ground saved made the neck difference at the finish.
'I just kept him up there inside the leader and kept him off the fence - why not make it harder for him?' a delighted Fradd told winning trainer Gary Ng Ting-keung.
It was a perfect display of how to use barrier one from Fradd and gave that much sought-after inside gate its first win for the season after 41 previous failures.
Hayes was more forgiving when Marcus ran second on Fortune Maker in the Beech Handicap, since Hayes trained the winner, Victory Master (Dwayne Dunn). 'Even though I did have a few words to Basil after the first, I am really happy with how my three jockeys are riding,' Hayes said. 'Shane Dye, Basil Marcus and Dwayne Dunn are the riders I'm mostly using this season and they are all riding great.
'Even though Shane was beaten on Top Winner earlier, his ride was perfect, he deserved to win but didn't. And I think Dwayne Dunn is really under-rated - he hasn't had the horses at Sha Tin which is why his winners have been here but you can see there he does everything right and is very strong in the finish. And the stable's horses are running well too, which certainly helps the jockeys.'
It was Dunn's second winner, following an earlier success for Hayes on Cyber Gulch at Happy Valley. 'I am finding I am getting a few more worthwhile rides from different stables and I'm making progress. To ride Victory Master, I had to put up a pound overweight but I still got down to 114 and it was worth it,' Dunn said after the win. 'I went out intending to lead but this time Basil really wanted to lead. Actually, when he crossed me and kicked on the corner I thought he had too good a break. But my horse really knuckled down and hit the line strongly. He was very professional.'
Marcus finally had a happy tale to tell after Silent Partner swooped in the final 200 metres after a cool ride, and so did Geoff Lane, who has begun the season in the same rare form that he was in finishing last term.
'All his wins have been here at the Valley. I picked this race out for Silent Partner a while ago so I'm very pleased to see a plan like that come off,' Lane said.
Champion jockey Douglas Whyte, meanwhile, bounced straight back into winning form when he teamed up with David Oughton to win on eight-year-old American Champion. Whyte was suspended at the opening day of the season and had not ridden since the September 5 meeting but he and Oughton made a formidable combination last season and were back at it again with the gelding who hadn't won for two years.
'I guess you could say it was not out of American Champion's turn but he really deserved to win,' Oughton said. 'Last season he was touched off a couple of times when he was close to a win and I suppose that's why he hasn't really dropped in the handicaps much despite not winning. Douglas used the inside draw well and it made the difference.'