Exultant was at his dominant best in Sunday’s (17 November) Group 2 Jockey Club Cup (2000m) at Sha Tin, galloping to victory in a faultless warm-up for his Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) defence next month.
The Teofilo gelding slotted in behind pace-setting siblings Glorious Forever and Time Warp before powering clear to win by a length and a quarter from last season’s BMW Hong Kong Derby winner Furore in a time of 1m 59.77s.
“He ran well first-up so there were no concerns for me about him getting back to his best, he just had to get to a distance that was suitable,” winning rider Zac Purton said.
Trainer Tony Cruz was equally satisfied following the first win of the campaign for Hong Kong’s reigning champion stayer and suggested that his star is on track to perhaps better last season’s haul of three Group 1’s.
“Everything has gone smoothly this season, I’m very happy with his condition and he seems to be a better horse this year,” Cruz said.
Purton though, hopes today’s win wasn’t too much of a “gut buster” ahead of his main target on 8 December.
“We went very hard through the first half of the race and I was surprised when Joao (Moreira) still tried to take off, but it flushed me out and meant I had to go,” Purton said.
“But I knew my horse was capable of doing that, so it wasn’t the end of the world for me – I just hope this hasn’t been a gut buster prior to his grand final.”
Exultant’s form from an excellent 2018/19 season has continued to stand up around the world.
Last year’s Vase runner-up Lys Gracieux claimed the Group 1 Cox Plate, while Waldgeist, who was fifth behind Exultant in that Sha Tin feature, lowered Enable’s colours in the Group 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe just last month.
It was a good day for last season’s Hong Kong Derby crop with runner-up Waikuku turning over Beauty Generation in the Group 2 Jockey Club Mile, while Derby hero Furore bounced back for Hugh Bowman to grab second behind Exultant.
“Furore’s a nice horse, he’s probably just been ridden a bit upside down his first two runs and had no luck from a wide barrier last start. A good draw and a nice pace has helped him get in a rhythm and he showed his best today,” Bowman said.
Caspar Fownes’ globetrotting galloper Southern Legend closed off to grab third and jockey Alberto Sanna was pleased with his mount’s effort.
“He ran well – he finished off nicely and in the corner I found a bit of trouble coming up to the straight with Time Warp and Glorious Forever in front of me, so I had to wait, but he ran on ok,” Sanna said.