IRREPRESSIBLE champion jockey Basil Marcus showed all the fighting qualities which have led to three successive titles with a typically tenacious treble at Sha Tin yesterday.
The South African has now ridden 42 winners this season and is just two behind local idol Tony Cruz with the race for riding honours solely between these two giants of the turf.
Marcus completed his treble on Privilege for retaining trainer Ivan Allan in the feature Pearce Memorial Challenge Cup, having earlier dead-heated with favourite Top-Worth on the Allan-trained Mighty Mighty as well as notching a facile success on Tony P. H. Chan's rapidly improving private purchase griffin, Intrepid Star.
'I'm really full of confidence with this treble behind me,' beamed Marcus who has been in prolific form of late as he pulls out all the stops to catch Cruz and retain the title which means so much to him.
'Our stable is now in tremendous form and I'm chasing every decent ride I can. I will be going flat out until the very last race of the season.' With the Allan team in such demonstrably good nick, it is even possible that the defending champion handler will come with a late rattle and run down leader John Moore in the tussle for training honours.
Allan's double took him to 35 winners and left him seven behind Moore who was on the mark yesterday with Magnum Thirtythree who appreciated the drop back in distance in the sixth event to make it two wins on the bounce.
The master French handler Patrick Biancone is back in outright second on 39 after Deauville's classy display in the last with Wong Tang-ping in third on 38.
But Moore must still be big odds-on with most of the interest focusing on the head-to-head clash between Marcus and Cruz.
Gary Stevens' departure to the United States could well make the job that much more difficult for Marcus as Cruz is now poised to come in for plenty of good rides from his life-long friend, Ping.
His commitment to Ping actually cost him a winner yesterday - ironically he turned down the ride on Intrepid Star to partner third-placed Manta Ray.
But over the closing 11 meetings there should be more than enough success for the Cruz-Ping axis to compensate.
Privilege matched Marcus for tenacity in the Cup event, racing up near the speed and then having far too much resilience for Super Fit who was ridden beautifully by Cruz but could not get past Privilege in those crucial closing 100 metres.
Privilege has now won four times and run second and third on three occasions for owner Peggy Kwoh So-chi and just gets better and better, and tougher and tougher with each run.
He could well develop into an International Vase contender next season when the taxing 2,400-metre trip should suit him ideally.
'He just never knows when he's beaten,' commented Marcus. 'He's such a laid-back individual in the mornings but come his races he's all heart and all fight. My type of horse. It wouldn't surprise me if he's good enough to run in the Vase next season.' Everyone concerned thought Mighty Mighty had been caught in the very last bound by Top-Worth in the third.
But when the result finally came through, it was impossible to split them leaving Marcus relieved.
'I really thought we'd been caught on the line,' he said.
John Marshall, the rider of Top-Worth, objected to Marcus and Mighty Mighty for interference in the final 50 metres in that Marcus was alleged to have struck Top-Worth across the head with his whip.
The objection was overruled mainly because the race-meeting stewards were unable to ascertain from the video replay whether this had indeed occurred.
Marcus had plenty of praise for Intrepid Star who comfortably held the late burst of District Relative in the griffin event, helped by a seven-pound concession.