Early Everest Speed Critical To Berry’s Crusade

By Ray Hickson

The art of riding a backmarker is a delicate one and it’s not always in your control so Tommy Berry is going to do his best to give Masked Crusader a little head start in Saturday’s $15 million TAB Everest (1200m) at Randwick.

Jockey Tommy Berry (Pic: Stave Hart)

For Masked Crusader, a head start is stepping away with them and staying in touch with the pack in the first 200m or so.

The five-year-old showed he is on target for the Everest with his last to first performance in the Group 2 Premiere Stakes (1200m) two weeks ago but Berry knows it’s not going to be so simple – if it was simple on that day.

“It’s the difference between letting him flop out of the gates and getting him to jump and show a little more speed,’’ Berry said.

“We’re not going to come out and ride him aggressive by any means. It’s not letting him have that first 50m of casual speed. He has to be a bit sharper than that.”

Assuming Masked Crusader wants to play ball with those plans by Berry, the next part of trying to beat the best sprinters in the country from the back of the field is largely out of Berry’s hands.

That’s how fast they go.

In winning the Premiere, the gelding produced a last 600m of 33.18 (Punter’s Intelligence) at the back end of 1:08.33 for the 1200m and arrived just in time but only two of his Everest rivals were in that race.

“You don’t want them to run too fast, it just gets you off the bridle and chasing too far out,’’ he said.

“It needs to be quick enough that they aren’t sprinting home in sectionals that we’re not able to make up from behind.

“If the horses on the speed get an easy time and are able to kick home quick it makes it hard to run them down.”

Masked Crusader was one of the first horses selected for the TAB Everest, snapped up by the group including Max Whitby and the horse’s part-owner Neil Werrett (one of Black Caviar’s owners) and has had the luxury of being set for the race.

Despite his impressive last start win he was $10 with TAB on Friday and is aiming to be the first Premiere Stakes winner, the third to attempt it, to convert in the Everest.

“There’s a good sense of timing about him, he was very good the other day and he’s improved a lot since that,’’ Berry said.

“He definitely had improvement to make in his fitness, I could tell that after getting off him last start.

“The track conditions aren’t going to worry him unless it rains on the day, which it doesn’t look like it will. The barrier wasn’t going to make too much difference to my bloke, he gets back.”

Berry doesn’t just have the one mountain to climb, he’s also keen to reunite with Country Championships winner Art Cadeau who attempts to win the $1.3m The Kosciuszko (1200m) first-up a couple of races prior to the Everest.

Due to the Covid restrictions, the jockey has only been able to partner Art Cadeau in a Hawkesbury barrier trial recently but that was an important gallop and he’s been encouraged by reports from trainer Terry Robinson since.

“He’s had a really trouble free preparation,’’ he said.

“I’m confident with his chances, he had his final gallop at Nowra on Monday and Terry was pleased with the way he came through it.”

The gelding has won five of his 11 starts and run second in the other six so he’s a model of consistency but so far in the Kosciuszko’s short history no Country Championships winner has been able to complete the double.

It’s likely to happen at some stage and Berry believes Art Cadeau, $6.50 with TAB on Friday, has the scope to reach higher levels.

“It takes a better horse than just a Country Championships horse to win a race like this but he hasn’t reached his level yet and we don’t know where that is,’’ he said.

“He’s a horse on the way up and has never finished further back than second. He can’t do much more than that.”