By David Morgan
Land Grant (131lb) will attempt to grab the finale at Happy Valley on Thursday (20 April) night, with jockey Sam Clipperton holding the opinion that the five-year-old has a strong claim going into the Class 3 So Kon Po Handicap (1650m).
Tony Millard’s charge heads to the 12-runner heat off a smart third behind Little Dragon at the course and distance last month and warmed up for this with a handy second in a barrier trial on the Sha Tin all-weather a little more than a week ago.
“It’s good form around Land Grant and I was quite impressed with his trial the other morning behind My Darling, so his work’s been good and he’s indicating to me that he’s ready to win. And he’s in the right race on Thursday night,” Clipperton said at Sha Tin trackwork this morning, Wednesday, 19 April.
The High Chaparral gelding’s one Hong Kong win from 12 starts to date was achieved at the course and distance in March last year. His first five efforts this term were some way below that level, so Clipperton was delighted to climb aboard for the first time last start and find the bay emerging from the doldrums.
“It was good to see him start to turn his form around, it’s taken a few runs to probably hit peak fitness and he really put the writing on the wall last start, he went up to win and probably just peaked on his run 100 (metres) out but was only beaten a length or so,” he said.
“Since then he’s had a nice trial just to keep him ticking over. He’s going to be well-prepared for Thursday night and we’ve got a good draw (five), so I would imagine him bouncing out and being in the first half somewhere, depending on the pace. If we can have a nice run he should be there in the finish again. I think him turning his form around last start is a sign of what’s to come.”
Millard echoed Clipperton’s view: “He’s a nice horse. He ran a very good race last time and he’s there in good form. Gate five is good for him and he’s fit and well.”
One horse that hasn’t drawn an ideal gate is Hero Look (124lb). Dennis Yip’s charge has failed to hit the mark in 16 races since import but the 2015 G3 Italian 2,000 Guineas winner has shown signs that he could be finding his feet in Class 3.
Umberto Rispoli was in the plate last start when the Lope De Vega gelding was a fair third to High Volatility at the course and distance and the rider believes his mount is capable of notching in this grade.
“He ran pretty well last time,” Rispoli said. “He’s a horse that when he draws inside it’s much better, because he’s got nice speed so you can settle in behind. Tomorrow, it’s forecast to rain so that would help him a little bit.
“I was very confident before the draw but now, of course, it’s going to be more difficult to make it but, like I said, he’s got nice speed so maybe from the outside we can use that and go a little bit closer to the pace.
“In Italy he won the Guineas, so he showed good form,” he continued. “He came here with a lot of ambitions but like many horses he wasn’t ready at the beginning and now he’s dropped a lot in the ratings. The horse looks in good shape and I think, in this class, he can win.”
Ferraris’ Showing Character
David Ferraris struck a double at Sha Tin on Easter Monday to take his season’s tally to 25. A dozen of those wins have come at the Valley, eight in 1200m contests and four at the 1650m distance.
Showing Character (120lb) will aim to enhance the trainer’s record over the Valley’s 1200m in race three, the Kowloon Tsai Handicap. Brett Prebble has been in the plate for each of the five-year-old’s nine outings this term, including back-to-back Class 5 wins in November and December. The bay has retained his form in two starts since upped to Class 4, including a solid second behind Jumbo Happiness last time.
“I think he can measure up in Class 4,” Ferraris said. “I think his runs after his Class 5 wins have been pretty respectable and haven’t been from the best barriers. He’s a Happy Valley specialist, he’s got the draw (2) to suit tomorrow and he’s very well.
“That’s a very decent horse that beat him last time - I think he’ll just track the speed and he just quickens away, he enjoys the Valley. I’m very happy - he’s fit, he’s well, Brett knows him very well and the most important thing is the barrier, which we’ve got.”
Ferraris will attempt to click a first win this season at the minimum when Smart Declaration (125lb) takes on nine others in race six, the Class 3 King’s Park Handicap (1000m). The Exceed And Excel six-year-old is a four-time course and distance winner and is down to his lowest mark (68) in almost two years.
“He’s another typical Happy Valley specialist,” Ferraris said. “He hasn’t been the luckiest with the barriers lately but they normally get along in this five furlongs and he should be able to get in behind the speed. Brett (Prebble) knows him well and he’s also very well.”
The bay broke from gate 11 last start to run two and a half lengths fifth behind the re-opposing principals Travel Comforts (118lb including Dylan Mo’s 10lb claim) and runner-up Wayfoong Vinnie (128lb) and Ferraris has positive expectations.
“He’s fine, he’s had no hiccups and I expect a big run from him,” he added.
Fellow South African Millard, on the other hand, has limited hopes about Travel Comforts being able to repeat his latest front-running victory after a 6lb hike.
“Travel Comforts is pretty one-dimensional but last time they let him get away, I don’t think they’ll allow that happen this time, it’ll be a different story altogether. I’m hoping he can win again, maybe he can surprise us, but it’s going to be tough for him.”
Thursday’s eight-race card kicks off at 7.15pm with the Class 5 Aberdeen Handicap (2200m) and concludes with the So Kon Po Handicap at 10.50pm. The night’s trophy race is race seven, the Class 3 Hong Kong Rugby Union Cup Handicap (1200m).
Land Grant breaks his local maiden in the Indian Recreation Club Challenge Cup last season.
Showing Character lands back-to-back victories over 1200m at Happy Valley last December.