Zac Purton is pushing Joao Moreira in the jockeys’ championship but the Australian has the most wins at Happy Valley and young sprinter Exceptional Desire can add another to his tally at the city track on Wednesday night.
Purton has 27 wins and trails three-time champion Moreira by three with around one quarter of the season gone but he has been exceptional at Happy Valley.
The 2013-14 champion has won 14 races at a strike rate of 22 per cent, putting him well clear of Nash Rawiller and Karis Teetan with eight wins each at the smaller circuit, while just five of Moreira’s 30 wins have been at the Valley.
Exceptional Desire looks another great chance for Purton in the Class Four Kyoto Handicap (1,200m) as the four-year-old gets back to barrier one on the C course with trainer Chris So Wai-yin implementing a key gear change.
Inexperience cost Exceptional Desire a victory up the straight first-up at Sha Tin when he hung out after hitting the front in a straight race.
Second-up and drawn one at Happy Valley, Exceptional Desire made all under Moreira for an impressive 1,200m win.
Returning to the same course and distance last start with Purton aboard and with 130 pounds on his back, Exceptional Desire showed good gate speed but had to work hard to find the front from barrier seven on the C + 3 course.
That early work may have taken a slight edge off Exceptional Desire in the finish and it was the horse drawn barrier one and enjoying a suck run behind him, Look Eras, who was able to edge him by a narrow margin on the line.
Inside barriers are generally an advantage over 1,200m, but statistics show that the edge becomes more pronounced as the rail comes out to the C and C + 3 configurations.
Horses jumping from barrier one, in particular, have enjoyed a high strike rate with the rail out over the last few seasons.
Since the start of the 2015-16 season, gate one has provided 15 of the 67 winners on the C course at a strike rate of 22 per cent and horses from the inside draw have filled a quinella spot 36 per cent of the time.
The other boost Exceptional Desire gets is So putting sheepskin cheekpieces on the sprinter, something he must have considered after the first-up run.
Having a rail to follow must have helped Exceptional Desire when he won but second-up his racing manners were excellent and the headgear should still give the gelding that little bit more focus.
The other section of the Class Four Kyoto Handicap (1,200m) looms as a clash between two young sprinters that have had no luck at the draws so far this season, Planet Star (Sam Clipperton) and Phantom Falcon (Dylan Mo Hin-tung).
Planet Star has drawn off the track at his first two starts this season and should go close after drawing barrier two.
The Paul O’Sullivan-trained sprinter was consistent without winning in five starts in his three-year-old season, finishing second behind Grace Heart and ahead of Starlight in June at Happy Valley.
Since then Grace Heart has continued to race well and Starlight has put himself into Class Two with four more wins.
Planet Star has been taken back from barriers 10 and 12 at his two starts this term – and has worked home well – but the four-year-old has shown earlier in his career that he can take a prominent position from a better draw.
Phantom Falcon has drawn 10, 10 and 11 at his first three starts of the season but has been game in defeat each time.
From barrier two and with the help of Mo’s seven-pound claim, Phantom Falcon will be handy without having to work as hard and will be very hard to beat.