Speedy Grass Hopper has jump on his rivals

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 June, 2004, 12:00am

The recent turnaround in form of Tony Millard's speedster Grass Hopper has been positive enough to suggest he is the one to beat in the Cricket Club Valley Stakes over 1,000 metres at Happy Valley this evening.

The South African import has always displayed above-average potential in his trackwork but failed to deliver on the promise until the trainer decided to use his natural early speed, with the result being an all-the-way victory over the minimum Valley trip on his seventh appearance (April 21). He made up for some disappointing performances with a dashing 41/4-length victory in the respectable time of 57.5 seconds on a night where times were fast across the board.

There was also plenty to like about his effort when second to Helene Elegance on May 19 over the course and distance. After covering a fair amount of extra ground from gate 12, with no cover, he fought on gamely all the way to the wire.

In theory, he should be better positioned in the running this time round from gate five which is the key. Anton Marcus gets his first ride aboard the speedy colt and there is plenty to suggest it will be a winning one.

Helene Elegance took 27 starts to notch his first local win but did it rather well, all things considered. The furious pace set by Down For The Count, who was ridden along to attain the lead at all costs, paved the way for his success. Helene Elegance meets Grass Hopper five pounds worse for a 11/4-length margin so in theory there is little separating the pair this time round. However, it is unlikely the race will be run at such a fast tempo. On the positive side, he may have gained a little confidence from the victory and cannot be discarded after drawing gate three.

Considering Down For The Count fought hot favourite Billet Express so hard for the lead last time, he performed reasonably well to finish only 4-1/4 lengths from the winner. His only win came when he led all the way over this course and distance to beat Town Of Fionn on December 10. If Shane Dye rides him to lead again, it's hard to see him improving on the result last time. He can improve this evening but his chances will hinge on how much early pressure is applied.

Healthy Fruits was another to benefit from the fast tempo when third to Helene Elegance and is a chance to figure again based on that performance. He leaves the impression he would prefer a fraction further, however, and winners rarely come from too far back on the turn at Happy Valley.

The return to the Valley will suit Manifest, who has held his form well in recent starts, including a decent fourth to Flying Sprinter over 1,200 metres at Sha Tin on May 30. The rise in grade means he is well weighted with 116 pounds and, from gate two, he should be well enough positioned for a late challenge.

The booking of Douglas Whyte for Ever More is worth noting as the Durban Demon has saluted twice in his three rides aboard the speedy galloper. Ever More finished fifth to ultra-progressive sprinter Always Flying last time, which looks even better form now in the wake of that horse's win in the Sha Tin Vase at Group Three level last weekend. Ever More leaves the impression he may be close to his mark in the ratings but he can't be ruled out of hitting the frame.

Major Bee finished third to Always Flying in the same event and has run respectably in two subsequent starts. However, he was fairly well beaten on his only run at Happy Valley - which came last season over the course and distance - and it may be worth waiting until he returns to Sha Tin.

Tony Cruz and Felix Coetzee team up with Lightning Bolt who has decent form over the course and distance without actually winning. He began the season rated 61 and the fact he hasn't won at all this term suggests he has a tough assignment tonight when competing off 63.

It is hard to make a case for Salut Beaute, who has not been in good form and has drawn poorly in gate 11. Even with the blinkers removed tonight, he has a tough assignment. Also hard to recommend is Wishmaster, who comes out of gate 10. He hasn't won in 23 starts and may have to drop a class before doing so.

Elfhelm showed some improvement in a recent trial but he has a tall order from the outside gate and is best watched. Debutant Espirit D'or has not impressed in his work or trials and may take more time to settle in.