The last time Exceptional Desire came to Happy Valley the sprinter failed to handle the tight turns and even first-up at Sha Tin this season, it was clear the four-year-old is still far from a finished product.
What isn’t in doubt is the gelding’s ability, and drawing barrier one might be the key to helping Chris So Wai-yin’s sprinter around the tricky track on Thursday night when he returns to the city circuit for the Class Four Quarry Bay Handicap (1,200m).
In two starts last season, Exceptional Desire showed glimpses of raw talent but was also a victim of his inexperience, with his first trip across town a real train wreck.
His second start, at Sha Tin, might have been even worse as he over-raced, again became unbalanced on the bend and finished unplaced.
Despite having trialled around a right hand bend on numerous occasions, including twice at the Valley, So’s horse floundered under the pressure of raceday conditions.
First-up this season, Exceptional Desire’s wayward nature again came into play, with the son of Darci Brahma throwing victory away by failing to stay on his line late in the straight race.
It didn’t help that Exceptional Desire found himself exposed 400m from home, giving him plenty of time to think and an excuse to wander off course when coming under pressure.
Finding the rail can do wonders for a horse like Exceptional Desire, giving him something to follow, and some cover might not hurt either.
When Exceptional Desire trialled on the dirt before his first-up run he had the benefit of the fence to follow and, while not perfect, he handled the turn adequately.
Gate one means it can’t be any simpler for Joao Moreira to find the rail this time around and, from the lead or box-seat position, Exceptional Desire can break his maiden at start four.
Matthew Poon Ming-fai’s seven-pound claim looks well utilised and the allowance takes the edge off Beauty Master’s big weight in the Class Three Causeway Bay Handicap (1,000m).
The seven pounds could be vital to Beauty Master’s chances, with the Tony Cruz-trained sprinter seemingly rated right to his best but struggling to break through.
Beauty Master hasn’t won for more than a year now but still remains stationed on a mark five points higher than his last winning rating.
Last start Beauty Master fought it out with rising star Top Beautiful, the older horse conceding 12 pounds to his younger but clearly more talented rival, but only beaten by a short head.
Top Beautiful looks a horse bound to go much higher, so it looks a solid form reference for this.
It isn’t a weak race by any measure though; E-Super (Tommy Berry) was impressive first-up, even if he was the beneficiary of Poon’s claim on that occasion, and Keep Moving (Neil Callan) gets his chance from a good gate.
Wayfoong Vinnie (Brett Prebble) is a horse likely to win his way out of the grade soon enough, but his chances took a major hit at the draw, along with another in-form galloper Racing Mate (Eddy Lai Wai-ming).
Victory Follow Me (Purton) would have started clear favourite in the Class Five Shau Kei Wan Handicap (1,650m) had he drawn low but gate 12 means he will probably have to be ridden conservatively again and rely on an ideal race set up.
Danny Shum Chap-shing’s French-bred five-year-old still looks the top pick, especially with blinkers back on and the rail in the true position, providing plenty of space to swoop.