Business as usual for established old firm
By ROBIN PARKE
OLD pals Tony Cruz and trainer Wong Tang-ping brought the curtain down on 1993 with a double on the Happy Valley equitrack last night that left the local idol tied with defending champion Basil Marcus atop the jockeys' championship.
It will be another nerve-tingling battle for the title but the odds may fractionally favour Marcus as the South African enjoys the support of retaining trainer David Hill and also Ivan Allan.
It was the former Singapore-based mentor who supplied the winning Marcus mount last night in favourite Team Valour (3-1) in the fifth event.
There wasn't much value about the Cruz winners either with Hammerhead (5-2 favourite) and Star Of Marble (7-2 favourite) making light work of their respective events.
Cruz and Marcus are now on the 25-winner mark and top Australian rider John Marshall moved to 20 winners with an excellent double for retaining trainer John Moore.
That moved Moore to four winners adrift of leader Allan while Marshall retains an outside interest in the destination of the jockeys' championship.
With the equitrack surface again riding fast and suiting front-runners, there was a predictability about a number of the results on the seven-event card, not least those involving the Cruz-Wong winners.
Hammerhead, who has solid course and distance form over the short equitrack sprint, jumped sweetly for Cruz but had to contend with topweight American Star (4-1) racing on his outside.
There had been strong support for the topweight but Cruz shifted the winner into top gear as they turned for home and it was all over in a matter of strides. Hammerhead had three lengths to spare on the line over fast-finishing Monopoly (7-2) who cut American Star out of the quinella.
Star Of Marble was striking the synthetic surface for the first time but punters were keen to get involved with the Wong-trained galloper who had won well early this season on the Sha Tin grass.
The four-year-old New Zealand import was coasting for Cruz and cleared out to win the Class Four, 1,400-metre event by a commanding five lengths from bottomweight Tung Feng (5-1) who came in for solid late support.
It was a significant win and Star Of Marble will be winning again - particularly as he has now shown considerable versatility.
Tung Feng had looked a partial threat as they swung towards home but Star Of Marble had far too many guns and Darren Gauci must have realised the cause was lost within seconds of straightening.
Former Sydney champion Marshall finished 1993 on a high note and underlined just what a highly successful link-up it has been with Moore.
The 66-1 double was initiated by Big Apple (6-1) in the third race and the sprinter, who had finished second in the first race of the present season, never really looked like getting beaten in the Class Five short sprint.
Marshall shook him right up early from his rails draw and easily held off veteran sprinter Everwell Gain (3-1) with Cruz up.
Despite an excellent last start effort at Sha Tin, Win Label (10-1) was surprisingly shunned by punters in the final event.
Marshall brought him sweetly into the Class Two, 1,600-metre event with a strong run along the rails going up the Rock and then swooped as they straightened. He took command and scored eased down by 21/2 lengths from Fortune Ride (12-1) who edged topweight and favourite Diamond Treasure (5-2) out of the quinella.
Marshall said: ''I thought we were unlucky last time because Win Label slipped as we left the gates. I think that cost us the race so he had to be a chance tonight.
''I wasn't really sure how he would go on equitrack particularly as I thought we would get behind. But he made up his ground well and I was pretty confident before the turn we were going to be winning it.'' It was a perfect home-coming present for trainer Moore who jets in this morning from Florida after a Christmas break.