By Ray Hickson
He has a reputation bigger than his race record at this stage but there’s no denying jockey Tommy Berry believes Masked Crusader is an untapped talent.
The exciting Michael, Wayne and John Hawkes four-year-old stepped out for the first time this preparation at Tuesday’s star studded Rosehill barrier trials, finishing a close second in his 900m heat, and Berry left suitably impressed.
Masked Crusader, a winner of three of his four starts, has such a rap on him from plenty of observers and experts that despite owning a benchmark of 78 is on the $15 line in the $15m TAB Everest market so Berry isn't getting too far ahead of himself just yet.
“He’s an exciting horse but he still has a lot to prove,’’ Berry said.
“If he is good enough who knows what’s in store for him, he still has a fair bit in front of him to prove before he gets to the heights everyone expects him to.
“To us he’s a benchmark horse, that’s all he’s won, but we hope he will go on to bigger and better things.’’
Berry said the gelding was on the fresh side in the barriers and consequently didn’t jump the best, forcing him to track wide in the run.
“I kept him pretty well on the bridle, the track was soft and chopped up so it made it hard work so I didn’t ask him to do too much. He did enough himself, he had a good blow and will take improvement out of it,’’ he said.
It’s likely Masked Crusader will make his return in a benchmark race on Saturday week at Randwick.
While a lot of attention was on the Chris Waller horde, led by TAB Everest favourite Nature Strip, at the Rosehill trials the Hawkes stable rolled out a string of horses expected to make their presence felt in the spring.
The likes of Master Of Wine, last seen running fourth behind Addeybb in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes, ATC Derby runner-up Zebrowski, emerging three-year-olds North Pacific and Ole Kirk and the trifecta in Heat 6 with Kingsheir, Wild Planet and new acquisition Angel Of Truth.
Berry said Master Of Wine has returned a more mature animal since his breakthrough season and isn’t concerned by the fact the six-year-old reared at the start of his 1030m heat and gave away a few lengths.
He wound up in fourth behind Toryjoy after tacking onto the field prior to the home turn.
“He’s done that plenty of times before mainly in his trials. He did it before he won first-up last prep in his trial as well,’’ Berry said.
“He gave a really nice feel. He hasn’t come back any bigger or stronger, he’s about the same as he was last prep, but he’s come back a bit more mature.
“It usually takes those imported horses two or three preparations and he feels like he’s more relaxed and he’s an exciting horse for the spring.’’
Tommy Berry on a few of his other trial rides:
Zebrowski (second in a 900m heat): “It was a fast run trial, he travelled really well in behind them and I was happy with the way he cruised home on the bridle. I have a lot to do with him at home but haven’t ridden him on race day. He’s come through that Derby prep and he has to do it against the older horses but he feels like he’s come back in good order. He’s more chilled out so he’s definitely matured and has an exciting prep ahead.’’
Masked Crusader runs second in a Rosehill trial on August 4
Ole Kirk (sixth in a 900m heat): “He has the option to run on the weekend or the following weekend, he wasn’t but there to do a heap. He’s about the same height but he’s definitely stronger than what he was. I think he was unlucky not to win a couple more last preparation and I think he can match up against a nice crop of three-year-olds.’’
Angel Of Truth (third in a 900m heat): “He’s a good worker at home. I couldn’t be happier with the way he’s been ticking along. You see a lot of horses that win Derbys not go on. We’ve seen horses have a change of stable and it puts a bit of spark back in their legs so hopefully that’s the case with this bloke.”
When asked if something else caught his eye at the trials Berry couldn’t resist the temptation to pinpoint Nature Strip, who strung his nine rivals out over 15 lengths in winning his 900m trial in 55.98.
Berry was on board Nudge, who finished sixth beaten 10 lengths.
“There were plenty of nice horses out there, not just the ones I was on,’’ he said.
“Nature Strip looked pretty good. I could see him, he was a little chestnut flash looking smaller and smaller as he was getting away.”