Classy Exultant defends crown in Hong Kong

Exultant showed all his class to dig deep and defend his crown in the Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup at Sha Tin on Sunday.

Known as Irishcorrespondent when with Michael Halford in Ireland, the Tony Cruz-trained six-year-old finished second in the Group One feature in 2018, but went one place better last year when beating Rise High by a length and a quarter.

The Teofilo gelding – who had most recently held Furore in last month’s QEII Cup – was quickly on the heels of stablemate Time Warp in the final Group One of the Hong Kong season.

Zac Purton’s mount was going best turning for home and had a clear advantage two furlongs out, but it was becoming hard work for the red-hot favourite with just over a furlong to go and inside the last he looked like he might be swamped.

But while Chefano and Furore threw everything at him, Exultant would not be denied a fifth Group One triumph of his career.

Exultant is now firmly in the mix for Horse of the Year honours and Purton said: “He can’t really do any more than he’s done, he’s been great all season, as he has been for the past few seasons.

“He does deserve it – everyone wants to talk about Golden Sixty but he only did it in the four-year-old series, he didn’t come out and do it against the older horses and I think it’s important that is taken into consideration. That might be the telling factor.”

He added: “It’s never easy in small fields when you’re on the favourite. Everyone goes out there to make your life difficult and they tried to do that again today, but fortunately I was on a horse that was able to absorb some pressure and still be able to fight out a finish.

“I thought, once again, I was out on my feet at the 200 (metres), but today it was like he was waiting for them a little more, it’s like he’s become more cunning and I could feel, when they were coming, he started to surge underneath.”

It was another day where Purton and his title rival Joao Moreira dominated proceedings, with both riders bagging four-timers to end the day tied on 123 winners apiece.