By Ray Hickson
In the couple of years since the great Chautauqua’s retirement, jockey Tommy Berry says he’s had the chance to ride a few emerging horses that remind him of where boom three-year-old Masked Crusader sits right now.
The hype around the gelding reached fever pitch just days ago with his runaway win at Randwick and all eyes are on him ahead of the $200,000 Inglis Guineas (1400m) at Rosehill on Saturday.
“There’s been horses like Libertini and Exceedance, nice fresh blood coming through, that you don’t know where their top is and this guy is a bit the same,’’ Berry said.
“He’s so exciting because we don’t know how good he is yet and he has the potential to be very good.
“We’ll know where we’re heading with him over the spring after this. If he doesn’t run the trip you can aim just for sprints and if he does the world is his oyster and you can aim him at whatever you like.”
Exceedance retired as a Group 1 winner while Libertini has so far managed a Group 1 placing and a Group 2 win so that's a decent rap on the lightly raced Team Hawkes galloper.
Berry is a little more level headed about the task ahead of Masked Crusader on Saturday than TAB’s $1.70 opening price – and his place on the $26 line for the TAB Everest - saying it’s the gelding’s acid test.
That’s not to say he’s isn’t up to it, there’s a chance he could be the next big thing, but among his rivals is a horse that’s been there and done it in last start Group 3 Hawkesbury Guineas winner Dawn Passage and that’s the one Berry respects.
“Dawn Passage has raced some of the better three-year-olds and acquitted himself quite well, especially when he races on top of the ground,’’ he said.
“We saw what he did to them last start in the Hawkesbury Guineas. He has more exposed form than my bloke but I know we will probably start favourite because of the hype on him.’’
Punter’s Intelligence sectional data illustrates how soft Masked Crusader’s lead was at Randwick, after running the fastest first 200m of 13.29 Berry was able to back right off to the point that his 600m-400m of 11.89 was the slowest of the race for that 200m.
But he clearly wasn’t let go and his last 200m of 12.07 (0.05 slower than the race’s best) could have been so much quicker and it was the opportunity to have an easy final furlong that sets him up to go again seven days later.
“It wasn’t the plan going out there (to lead) but the way he went to the gates he was a bit fresh,’’ Berry said.
“I knew I’d ride him on how he jumped and he jumped so well and mustered speed I didn’t want to grab hold and get into a fight with him.
“I let him roll for a furlong and a half and he came back to me okay and the rest was history. It was nice I was able to give him a nice time into the straight bearing in mind there was a chance he’d back up this week.”
Berry said he’ll take an open mind into the early part of Masked Crusader’s race on Saturday, his first attempt at 1400m, from barrier six of seven.
“It’d be nice if we could get a sit on him, I’m not hellbent on leading with him all the time unless he gets there on his own again,’’ he said.
“I’d be more than happy to take a sit on something like Bandersnatch if he wants to lead.
Masked Crusader wins at Randwick on May 9
“He’s on the back up which will help him relax better and he’s had two good grounding runs over 1000m and 1200m.”
Fellow Team Hawkes galloper Amangiri is out to add the Group 3 $160,000 Emirates Park Dark Jewel Classic (1400m) to her Hawkesbury Cup win two weeks ago.
The four-year-old, who opened $4.80 favourite with TAB, has 59kg in the Scone Race Club’s feature mares event and Berry said he’s confident she can back up her last start effort if she has an uninterrupted passage.
“You won’t see too many bigger mares than her in the yard so weight doesn’t concern me too much,’’ he said.
“She makes her own luck on the speed and she hasn’t taken a step backwards.
“Her biggest asset is her momentum, that was taken away from hr last start when she was halted a bit on the corner. For her to pick up and sprint again and put away some decent horses she did a good job.’’