Everest Mission Locked In Early For Masked Crusader

By Ray Hickson

Connections of star sprinter Masked Crusader can sit back and watch the 2022 TAB Everest field take shape in front of them as the 2021 runner-up is first horse secured for the sixth running of the $15 million classic.

The race isn’t run until October 15 but managing owner Rupert Legh said the gelding, who will be six when the TAB Everest is next staged, can spend 2022 aiming at one race after the Max Whitby, Neil Werrett and Col Madden group snapped him up again.

Werett and Madden are among the owners of Masked Crusader.

Of course, there will be an autumn campaign aimed at the $2.5m TJ Smith Stakes (1200m) but Legh said the owners are fixed on improving on his narrow defeat in the Everest.

“You want to lock it away so you have a definite goal and now you can prepare and plan,’’ Legh said.

“The deal they offered last year was more than fair and it was only right to support the ownership group and lock it away.”

The TAB Everest continues to break new ground – Masked Crusader is the first horse to ever be locked in pre-Christmas.

Masked Crusader started $12 in the 2021 TAB Everest and TAB has him listed as an $11 chance in the 2022 edition with defending champ Nature Strip the $7 favourite.

Legh is keen to renew rivalries with Nature Strip in the new year and exact some revenge for his seconds in the TJ and the Everest.

“We all saw what happened in the TJ last year and in the Everest, it was only bad luck at the end of the day that didn’t see him win both races,’’ he said.

“There’s no doubt Nature Strip is an absolute champion, he’s proven that, it’d be great to have another contest with him.

“He’s the sort of horse the way he races he needs luck in running, he’ll lose races because of the bad luck he encounters during the race. He could sprint off a thrippence and very few horses can do that.”

Co-slot owner Max Whitby said it made sense to go with Masked Crusader for another year given 2021 was his coming of age at the top level and all indications are that 2022 will be even better.

And the fact he’s rising six while Nature Strip will be eight and Eduardo nine he’ll be at his peak as a sprinter.

“As far as I’m concerned, Lost And Running is a 1400m horse and this year’s winner is going to be an eight-year-old so we’re in a good position,’’ Whitby said.

“There was a cigarette paper in it this year so we will see what happens.

“He’s the right horse, no doubt about it. We know what the conditions are, we know what we are up against.

“We’ve all got to make a decision and that’s what we’ve done.”

Whitby’s Everest group has finished second on two occasions in the TAB Everest, with Vega Magic in the inaugural running in 2017 and Masked Crusader in 2021.