'Pinch me, I'm in a dream,' says Marcus
Sensational South African jockey Anton Marcus rounded off a four-timer yesterday with the Group Two Sha Tin Vase then demanded to know if he was dreaming. 'Somebody pinch me - I must be asleep because I have to be dreaming,' he exclaimed after the Ivan Allan-trained sprinter Firebolt gave Marcus the main event in dashing style to rack up number four on his best afternoon's riding in Hong Kong.
'Really, I am in complete shock. I was when I was asked to ride this horse. I've only ever been on him in one canter before and now to win a Group race like that is just fantastic.'
Marcus has set the Hong Kong scene alight during May, with yesterday's haul bringing his tally for the month to 15 wins at a strike rate of better than 25 per cent and rocketing to him to 32 wins. That places him fifth on the championship table during a season when he has only been licensed for six of the nine months and missed another 13 meetings through suspension.
He has ridden trebles on a number of occasions, but yesterday was Marcus' first quadrella in the SAR, opening the day with Little Elephant, then following up with Glasgow Kiss, the Geoff Lane-trained Silent Partner and wrapping up with Firebolt.
Trainer Allan was missing from the Sha Tin fixture but would have been delighted at the way Marcus steadied Firebolt under his big weight and saved him for a final run. 'That was very impressive,' Marcus said. 'He is a bit of quality. When I went for him, he just changed gears even with 133 pounds.'
The Centenary Sprint Cup winner at his Hong Kong debut, Firebolt's win under top weight backed up a solid effort in international company in Singapore's KrisFlyer Sprint on May 11, when the gelding had been forced to race wide behind Australian Group One performer North Boy.
Rival trainer Tony Cruz prepared runner-up Our Class yesterday but was prepared to concede to the 'real class'. 'That winner is a real class horse,' he said. 'My guy tried very hard and was probably suited by the way the track is today but Firebolt was just far too good.'
While others were happy to admit the class difference was the factor, David Hayes will rethink the remainder of the season for All Thrills Too after he ran poorly. 'He was never travelling, never even going to be in the finish and we know he's as good as the winner,' he said.
'I had planned to run him in a 1,400-metre event before the end of the season, but we'll have a look and see how he pulls up. He might have had enough now. He's been there in everything all season and has had plenty to do. All Thrills Too might be ready for a break.'
Trainer David Hill quipped that his winner, the Derek Currie-owned Glasgow Kiss, had spurred Marcus on to great deeds after all but taking charge of him to win the third.
Marcus looked to have had a brain snap at the 700 metres when Glasgow Kiss went charging up around the field but the gelding went on to win his maiden and Hill was forced to deny it had been a well-planned move.
'Actually, the plan was to try to ride him cover,' he said. 'But from barrier 12, Anton said he couldn't get in and midway through the race the horse wanted to take off with him. He let it run rather than fight it but it certainly fired Anton up.
'I was surprised as anyone when he went up wide out and I don't know if I would have been too happy if the horse had been beaten. Anton told me he didn't think there was that much left in the tank by the time they turned for home, but I guess he set the others a job to run him down and they weren't good enough.'
Marcus' easiest win was his griffin opener on Little Elephant for compatriot Tony Millard when blinkers made all the difference. 'Michael Cahill rode him for me at the first run and Little Elephant was a bit fractious in the gates,' Millard explained.
'He got left when they opened and it was quite a hot 1,000-metre race that day behind Hidden Dragon. Once he missed the start, he was up against it so we took him home and reschooled him.'
But in blinkers yesterday, Little Elephant pinged out and the race was soon over, with the son of Langfuhr and Sharpatan clearing away to score by five lengths.
Little Elephant is a half-brother to former Australian filly Isolda, who beat champion Octagonal in the Champagne Stakes at 1,600 metres as a two-year-old and went on to be placed in the AJC Oaks (2,400m).
'The blinkers just made him concentrate better,' Millard said. 'He is such a placid horse until he goes in the gates and they just helped him there. His agitation in the barriers is something I think he will grow out of and he really has the makings of a very nice horse. With that speed, when you consider that he is bred to get a trip, he looks promising.'
Along the way, Marcus also rode his first winner for Geoff Lane when he steered home Silent Partner at long odds. 'Anton has only ever had two rides before for me, so his strike rate is pretty good,' Lane laughed.
'I told him when I asked him to ride this fellow that it's just a case of everyone having their usual riders and so he's usually riding for someone else. But there's no one riding any better than him and he did exactly what I asked on Silent Partner. I asked him to ride him to get the 2,000 metres because he was a little bit of a doubt and he let him work into it without pushing him early.'
Lane has had good success with the stock of Palace Music and yesterday's win was the fifth for Silent Partner and took his earnings to more than $4 million. 'I bought him after he had one start as a baby in New Zealand. He was only small and I thought he would grow and develop but he never did,' Lane said. 'He's only a smallish horse, but he has plenty of heart.'