Tony Cruz is the big-race king, having won 14 of the last 28 Group One races decided here over the past two seasons. But the home-grown champion has an extreme challenge on his hands if he's to get Silent Witness back in prime form with 11 days remaining to the $10 million Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint. Silent Witness was a shadow of his normal self in yesterday's barrier trial, and there's no viewing of it that should be able to prompt an alternative point of view. In the final 200 metres, the modest middle-distance performer Soprano was bounding past him into fourth place while the great one laboured home in fifth position, beaten approximately five lengths. The decision to try to turn things around in the next week probably underlines Cruz's fighting qualities as much as anything else. The six-time champion jockey and two-time premier trainer has never run away from a challenge and giving up when there's still a sniff of a chance is not in his nature. But realistically, the task ahead of him to turn things around for Silent Witness is enormous. The champion, unbeaten in 18 starts at 1,400m or less, has not been himself since returning from Japan last month. The theory that makes most sense is that Silent Witness's outstanding first-up win in the Sprinters' Stakes in Japan took more out of him than previous races have done, leaving him vulnerable. In 16 of his first 17 starts, he had bounded away for soft wins, the only real struggle coming against Planet Ruler in September 2003, when he gave the Danehill gelding 14 pounds, was only 75 per cent fit and fought back from the brink of defeat for a win that signalled his arrival at racing's top level. But now, he has had three energy-sapping runs in a row - his two defeats at a mile and his hard-fought Sprinters' Stakes win, when he spent much of the race three wide into the breeze, chasing a furious pace and forced to maintain the gallop under the whip in the final 200m. As well as three extremely hard races, for the Yasuda Kinen and the Sprinters' Stakes there have been two return plane journeys to Japan, and it seems the last of these, the trip home on October 3, may have been when he succumbed to a viral infection. He was very flat in a trial on November 1, galloped pathetically on the riverside on November 17 and yesterday, while much better than his riverside gallop, was still lengths short of Silent Witness standards. Good luck to the Witness and all credit to Cruz for his never-say-die attitude, but, for the short term, at least, horsemanship and logic both tell us that the odds are well and truly stacked against him.