Exultant has plenty riding on victory in the Group 1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) at Sha Tin Racecourse on Sunday, 26 May.
Hong Kong’s Champion Stayer title would surely be his; there’s the matter of making history too; and then the possibility of a career-defining trip to Japan at the end of June for the Group 1 Takarazuka Kinen.
“What’s very important is how he pulls up after this race and that will tell us if we’re going anywhere else with him,” trainer Tony Cruz said this morning (Tuesday, 21 May).
“If he wins or doesn’t win, if he doesn’t pull up good then there’s no point going anywhere, but if he does we’ll go to Japan.”
Exultant has established a firm position as Hong Kong’s standout stayer since a breakthrough top-flight win in the Hong Kong Vase (2400m) back in December. That sparked a hat-trick, which featured a second Group 1 score in the Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m).
That winning run ended last time in the QEII Cup (2000m), but the bay’s brave second behind Japanese raider Win Bright meant that his status remained undented.
“He didn’t have a perfect race in the QEII but if we swapped gates with the winner I think we could have won. But he pulled up well, this is another big race and I believe he’s ready for it,” Cruz said, noting that Win Bright’s rail run from gate one seemed to afford an easier passage than Exultant’s from gate six.
Cruz is pleased with Exultant’s wellbeing after that hard run but the five-year-old will need to be on top of his game again on Sunday. No horse has snared both of Hong Kong’s 2400m Group 1’s – the Hong Kong Vase and Champions & Chater Cup – in the same season.
Indigenous, alone, has won both features but never together in one season. His Hong Kong Vase came in 1998, while his Champions & Chater Cup victories were achieved in 1997 and 1998.
Exultant limbered up for his upcoming test with a barrier trial on the dirt last week, over an all-too-short 1200m: he rolled home without pressure, seven-plus lengths behind former stablemate Pakistan Star. The latter will try to emulate the four-time winner River Verdon, as well as Indigenous and Viva Pataca, with back-to-back wins in Hong Kong’s final Group 1 of the season.
“Exultant’s trial was alright, there wasn’t much to see but Zac (Purton) was very happy with him and he had a lot of gas in the tank, he just doesn’t have the pace to show that at 1200 metres,” Cruz said.
“He came out of the last race good and I’m very happy with him. He’s a real stayer and the QEII at 2000 metres was a just a little on the short side but the 2400 (metres) is his ideal,” Cruz said.
“If he can win this and get the Champion Stayer title we’d be happy with that.”
The nine entries feature Japanese raider Happy Grin. Also in engaged are the last two Group 1 Hong Kong Cup (2000m) winners, the siblings Glorious Forever and Time Warp, along with the talented four-year-old Dark Dream and this season’s Group 2 Jockey Club Cup (2000m) scorer Eagle Way.