A VIRTUOSO performance from Basil Marcus took Ivan Allan back within striking distance of Patrick Biancone in the tussle for training honours at Sha Tin yesterday.
The South African jockey may look as if he's been pumping away on them for dear life from the word go but it is no more than an illusion. They always have that little bit left for the finish and that is how it transpired yet again when Marcus grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat on Winning Spirit in the last and Lucky Partners in the second. The double took Marcus to 53 winners in a prolific campaign which will see him run out an easy winner of the jockeys' championship.
For Allan things are going to be much tougher as Biancone still has plenty of bullets to fire from his equine arsenal. For instance, his Consistent Win, third in the opening griffin event, is as near as you can get to a good thing when next produced. The scores on the doors now read 39 to the great French handler and 37 to the former champion, Allan. They are clear of defending champion John Moore who is on 30 and cannot be realistically considered a major threat with just 13 meetings left.
There has never been more pronounced track bias at Sha Tin than this season and with the rail out yesterday to the 'B' course on the short straight, there was only one place to be - up on the pace and hopefully on the rails to boot. Lo and behold that's where Marcus was to be found for both his victories. He made all the running from barrier two on the tenacious Winning Spirit in the last and was at Lucky Partners from the barriers in order to get him out from gate 14 and into a forward position.
Winning Spirit was challenged strongly by Super Freighter throughout the final 200 metres but Marcus had kept enough in reserve to repel that challenge and score by a head. 'He's such a game and genuine horse,' Marcus said about Winning Spirit.
'I thought Super Freighter was the horse I had to beat because he finished second to me on Success Partners at Happy Valley last time. I did also respect the chances of Winning Horse as he looks such a nice horse and he won so well in the Centurion Trophy.
'But there was only a small field in the Centurion and the form from those races doesn't always stand up.' Yesterday's success came over a mile and Winning Spirit saw the trip out really well on slow ground.
So could the three-year-old make up into a Derby contender next season? Marcus erred on the side of caution. He said: 'At this stage I would prefer to say he's a pretty useful miler.' That may be the case but the way Winning Spirit has progressed from a sprinter to a miler in less than 12 months, the Derby looks to be his natural target next season.
Forget Winning Horse even went round in yesterday's final event as he must have lost some eight lengths when caught up in interference going into the bottom bend. Equine Supremo came from a long way back to run third on a day when anything ridden back had very little chance. Don't give up on him, especially over a bit farther. Vickie Choi must face an adjourned inquiry into his riding of Super Freighter and the interference caused going into the bottom bend. Marcus produced a stunning finish on Lucky Partners to grab the luckless Mediocrity right on the line in the second - this was despite Marcus dropping his whip. 'I just resorted to using my hand and giving him a few slaps,' smiled Marcus. 'And it worked.' Darryll Holland, on a high following the news that Wong Tang-ping wants to retain him next season, was as good as his word in yesterday's eighth event. When the news of the retainer broke on Wednesday night, Holland promised to ride his current retaining trainer, Geoff Lane, a hatful of winners before the curtain comes down on June 9. That run started yesterday with a polished display on Owner's Bliss who emphatically held Indian Chetak.