Trainer Tony Cruz is looking forward to seeing what his exciting four-year-old Exultant can do over a longer stretch of ground in Sunday’s (15 April) Kowloon Cricket Club Centenary Cup Handicap at Sha Tin Racecourse.
The bay was thereabouts in each of this season’s three Classic Series races, without claiming any silverware, and should relish the weekend’s 2200m feature. The Teofilo gelding’s one Hong Kong win from six races so far came over 2000m and was achieved in dominant fashion.
“I’m very happy with him since the Derby and the 2200 metres is right up his street,” Cruz said at Sha Tin this morning, Friday, 13 April.
After finishing a running-on third behind Ping Hai Star and Singapore Sling in the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) last time, Exultant finds himself burdened with 133lb in this Class 2 affair.
“The only thing against him is the weight,” his trainer said. “He’s a real stayer, so 1800 metres and up is what he needs and the mile and a half, I think, is where we’ll see the best of him.
“I reckon we could have been second in the Derby but we were caught wide on the turn and lost a lot of ground. This time we aren’t facing that kind of opposition so it’s down to how he copes with the weight he has to carry.”
The Irish import, third to Churchill in last year’s Group 1 Irish 2,000 Guineas (1600m), could use Sunday’s race as a lead-in to the Group 1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup (2000m) on Sunday, 29 April, in which he could face Ping Hai Star again.
“I’ll see how he pulls up after this but if he’s showing me that he’s in good form, I’ll be happy to take him to the QEII Cup,” said Cruz, who is confident that Exultant’s best is yet to be seen.
“He’s still a bit weak to me, he’s definitely the type of horse that will get stronger and better with age,” he added.
Ruthven follows Generation path
Another four-year-old in the race with an APQEII Cup entry is the John Moore-trained Ruthven (132lb), fourth in the Derby last time. The Moore stable took the equivalent contest in 2017 with subsequent Group 1 Hong Kong Mile hero Beauty Generation. That horse, too, held high rank among his four-year-old peers, having placed third in that year’s Derby.
Tommy Berry has been in the plate for two of Ruthven’s six starts this term and climbs back aboard, having handed the reins to Zac Purton and Damien Oliver for the Australian import’s last two runs. Berry feels that the Domesday colt is just starting to blossom in Hong Kong.
“When he was in Australia he was working out on the sand dunes and the beach – when I saw him win the Derby in Queensland he was light-looking, so obviously he was very fit. Here, you can’t work the horses as hard and it takes longer to get them fit, especially for colts. It has taken him a long time to get fit,” the jockey said.
“I think you saw that in the Derby, he looked in good shape there and John hasn’t missed him since then.”
Ruthven’s greatest achievement is his Group 1 Queensland Derby victory last year over 2200m and Berry believes he is ready for a return to that distance.
“I think that’s going to suit him,” he said. “He’ll be able to roll forward and put himself into the race; it’s just whether Tony Cruz’s horse has a better turn-of-foot than him over this trip still.
Berry and Moore recently ended their retainer agreement and the rider is now a Club Jockey, but that break clearly hasn’t harmed the pair’s relationship.
“John and I are good friends and I’ve got a few rides coming up for him so hopefully we can keep our association going,” Berry said.
The 10-runner field also includes the Ricky Yiu-trained Packing Dragon (132lb), the John Size-trained pair Prawn Baba (123lb) and Sergeant Titanium (121lb), the Cruz-trained Doyeni (119lb), Savvy Six (114lb) and Consort (113lb), the Danny Shum-trained Happilababy (115lb), and Grand Chancellor (113lb) from the Moore stable.
Sunday’s 11-race card kicks off at 12.30pm with the season’s first Griffin contest, the Castle Peak Bay Plate (1000m), which has attracted seven runners.
In the last, the Class 3 Yan Chau Tong Handicap (1200m) at 5.45pm, an interesting Size-trained three-year-old will step out. Joao Moreira is slated to take the ride on Hezthewonforus, an eight-length winner at his sole start back in November, at Avondale, New Zealand.
“He seems ok,” Size said. “He’s made the adaption to Hong Kong reasonably quickly. His work has been good, his trials have been sound; I don’t think we can do much more at home so he might as well go to the races and get that first race out of the way.
“I think he’s got some talent; he has an unusual running style, he carries his head a little bit high but certainly seems to have a good, long stride, a good action, and moves quite well, so I think he’ll run well.”