Exultant will lead trainer Tony Cruz’s three-horse assault on Sunday’s (18 February) HK$10 million Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) at Sha Tin Racecourse, with the handler seeking a second win in the race, 11 years on from Floral Pegasus.
The Golden Age and Doctor Geoff are slated to join their stablemate in the second leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series at the Chinese New Year’s race day, having side-stepped last month’s Hong Kong Classic Mile. Exultant was a running-on fourth behind the impressive Nothingilikemore in that first generational test.
“Exultant is the pick of them, for sure. All three are in good form, though, and this Sunday’s race will hopefully take them into the Hong Kong Derby (2000m) with big chances,” Cruz said.
The handler does not have to worry about a stamina doubt at the weekend. Exultant proved his merit over a trip with an impressive Class 2 win at 2000m immediately prior to his Classic Mile effort.
“Everything is going according to plan and he is in better shape for this race than he was last time. His fitness is good and he’s learnt from his races,” Cruz said of Zac Purton’s mount.
“This distance will be better for him than the mile last time. He’s definitely going to be more suited to the 1800 metres and in time we will see him racing over 2400 metres, that won’t be a problem.”
The Golden Age and Doctor Geoff will bring fresh blood into the Classic Series. The former has carved a niche this term as a smart performer at Happy Valley, notching front-running wins at 1650m and 1800m before placing second to Eagle Way in the Group 3 January Cup (1800m) last month. The chestnut was a solid fourth behind subsequent Group 3 winner Dinozzo in a 1650m Class 2 at the city venue last time out.
“This distance is perfect for The Golden Age,” Cruz said. “I don’t see Sha Tin as being a negative, he’s been running really well at Happy Valley but he’s a talented horse and I think he can show his best here, too.”
Jockey Matthew Chadwick echoed that view: “His last couple of runs, he’s been beaten by black type horses and both of those are entered for the Group 1 race next week, so the form is good. You can’t knock him, even though it’s been at Happy Valley.
“He feels like he’s more of a stayer now, he’s built up his strength and he should be able to go the 1800 at a stronger gallop. His form puts him right in the frame on Sunday, and while he loves Happy Valley, coming back to Sha Tin is just about whether he has the ability, and if he has, then the track won’t matter.”
Doctor Geoff is the dark horse in the Cruz contingent. The Irish import rattled off a fast closing sectional to finish a half-length second to the talented Pingwu Spark on debut in November. After a sub-par second run, the Fast Company gelding kept on for a wayward yet smart third in a 1600m Class 2 in early January – subsequent Classic Mile fifth Rivet was one place behind him.
“Doctor Geoff wasn’t quite ready for the Classic Mile and he’ll be more suited to this distance, so he comes into this race now ready after three runs. He’s got a big finish and he’ll show it at the right distance – I think the 1800 is his right distance,” Cruz said.
“Last time, he veered out to the stands’ rail but Karis (Teetan) should have pulled the whip through, so you can’t blame the horse for the way he drifted across the track that day.”
The John Size-trained Nothingilikemore is likely to start a warm favourite to follow-up his impressive victory in the Hong Kong Classic Mile.
Also among the 13 entries are the Classic Mile place-getters, runner-up Singapore Sling from the Tony Millard yard and third-placed Morethanlucky, trained by Frankie Lor.
The John Moore stable could field Group 1 winners Rivet and Ruthven, as well as Beauty Miles and Grand Chancellor, while the Richard Gibson duo of Rattan and Goldfield, and the David Ferraris-trained Patriot Hero complete the entries.