Mars surprises connections
'I gave him a backhander with the whip to get him to pick up and he did so nicely'
Even jockey Corey Brown and trainer Paul O'Sullivan were no help to the owners of yesterday's longshot surprise Mars when they went looking for a positive opinion on the four-year-old's debut chances.
'I walked into the yard and the owners asked me what I thought about their horse and I said 'well, actually, I've never even been on his back' ' Brown laughed after the O'Sullivan- trained 99-1 chance had steamed down the outside rail to upset the favourite Top Stitch.
'I told them that I had watched tapes of his trials and frankly didn't think they were that impressive.'
It had been a long wait for owners Mr and Mrs Chau King-yuen to see Mars run in a race, as the gelding had been in Hong Kong since the start of last season.
Twelve barrier trials and a change of stables later and he was there yesterday to put mud in the eye of punters in the Magnolia Handicap, 1,000m, but Brown said he didn't think it was a fluke win for all of that.
'When I was taking him down to the barriers, he seemed to float a bit in his action and just generally seemed very new to the whole thing,' the jockey said.
'But once he was in the race, he gave me a good feel in running. At about the 600m, I gave him a backhander with the whip to get him to pick up and he did so nicely and obviously he finished the race off very well.
'I would think that just for the experience alone he would have some improvement in him,' he added.
It was the second triple figure odds winner for O'Sullivan this season - after Visionnaire's Happy Valley victory - but he had also told the Chaus that he didn't quite know what to expect.
'When he came to me from another yard, I trialled him once in October and then realised he'd already had 11 trials before that, so I didn't think he needed any more,' O'Sullivan said.
'His joints aren't the best so, since that October trial, our focus has really been on getting him feeling comfortable. I hadn't been able to squeeze him in his work and see what he could do, and that's what I said to the owners.
'I didn't think he would be disgraced but he'd not done anything to make us confident and I was just hoping he would run OK and give us a guide for the future,' the trainer added.
Both Brown and O'Sullivan later sealed doubles with winners at more predictable odds - Dansolde (Olivier Doleuze) arriving for O'Sullivan while Brown's ride made all the difference aboard Gary Ng Ting-keung-trained King Of Spades in the all-weather Class Five event.
King Of Spades has been an infrequent winner in his career due to his usual habit of racing back at the tail of the field.
But Brown conjured the gelding's third win from 51 attempts yesterday by having him much closer from gate one on the dirt.
'He jumped well and we had a perfect run, travelled beautifully all the way,' Brown said. 'All the breaks came when he needed them and he was strong taking the gaps. It was a win with plenty of authority under the big weight.'