Improving El Grande has a touch of class
There weren't too many eye-catching runs from Wednesday night's card at Happy Valley, but trainer David Hall's El Grande appears to be on the verge of breaking through following another progressive showing in the Black's Link Handicap (1,200m).
El Grande showed nothing in his first three runs, but has been racing better since a move to blinkers for Way Leung Ming-wai for a mid-April fifth behind Many Gains over this course and distance, and a fourth last month behind Happy Forever at Sha Tin.
With Brett Prebble jumping aboard for Hall - a partnership that has clicked at a 14 per cent rate for 11 winners this season, El Grande was a second choice in the betting at $54.
El Grande travelled a handy third and on the fence behind the genuine pace being issued by Beautiful Dreamer, grabbed a narrow lead at the 250m with Prebble throwing everything at his charge before going down fighting at the 100m to come up a three-quarter length second to Star Of Fame. The four-year-old bay gelding has a pedigree from top to bottom to be a specialist as a sprinter-miler type. His sire was the Breeders' Cup Mile hero Royal Academy, who was most famous for fathering one of the legends of local racing in Bullish Luck, a double Champions Mile, Yasuda Kinen and Hong Kong Cup winner at Group One level. His dam, the Danehill Dancer mare Dezhilla, was a four-time winner from 1,300m to 1,600m and is a half-sister to La Nikita, a listed winner of four races up to a mile.
El Grande is coming to hand nicely and, with another positive run under his belt, he will take a lot of beating when next stepping out.
The Ricky Yiu Poon-fai-trained Exceptional Art has been finding the line nicely since returning from a freshen up and off his latest effort, should live up to earlier expectations.
In the Class Three Mount Nicholson Handicap, Exceptional Art was taken back from a wide gate by Mark du Plessis behind the moderate early fractions issued by Perfect Gear. He improved his position to settle worse than midfield at the 600m, rounded the final bend widest out and went to the line strongly to go under by two lengths in sixth to Kyara.
The five-year-old British import arrived a listed winner and looked promising when flashing home to finish second to quality Aashiq with this season's Group winner Cerise Cherry in third from three outings last term, but has continually had setback after setback with leg issues.
In six earlier runs this campaign, Exceptional Art had produced dull form, but stayed on well in October when fourth behind the eventual Hong Kong Gold Cup winner California Memory over the 1,400m, before hitting the sidelines following a closing sixth on the all-weather track behind Rich Unicorn in January. He resumed last month at Sha Tin from a chronic lameness problem in April with a nice fourth behind smart trio of Gift Is Gift, Adoration and the eventual winner Kyara over the 1,200m.