Adulation has not poured down on Exultant – not yet, at least – but trainer Tony Cruz believes the talented stayer is advancing with muted intent towards December’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m).
“He’ll almost win it – I really believe that,” the trainer said of next month’s HK$20 million contest.
First, though, Sunday’s (18 November) G2 BOCHK Jockey Club Cup will pitch the Teofilo gelding against his lauded stablemate and fellow Vase candidate Pakistan Star. And while the 2000 metres of this weekend’s contest will be a suitable test for both horses, all sense says that the stamina-laden Exultant will relish that and more.
So far this season, the Irish import has stepped out twice, staying on to fifth in the G2 Sha Tin Trophy Handicap at a mile, and, two weekends back, placing fourth in the G3 Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse Handicap (1800m).
“All he needs is a distance,” Cruz said. “Sunday’s race will be more suitable for him and then he’ll get the distance he needs in the Vase, so that’s where we’re heading.”
Pakistan Star is unquestionably the Cruz stable’s standout contender for the Hong Kong Vase, a race Hong Kong has captured only twice from 24 editions. Exultant, though, has already shown abundant promise.
The bay ran with merit yet without panache in last season’s Four-Year-Old Series, but advanced to win a pair of late season G3 contests either side of a fine second in the G1 Champions & Chater Cup (2400m), a length and three quarters behind Pakistan Star. The first of those Pattern wins was a six-length demolition of his rivals in the Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap (2400m).
“He’s a much stronger horse than last season, he’s getting better,” Cruz said of the 2017 G1 Irish 2,000 Guineas third.
And with a low-key preparation showing a steady upward curve into the weekend, the handler is delighted with where he finds his charge.
“His condition leading into this race is fantastic, I’m very happy with him and if he can run a place on Sunday I’ll be satisfied with that,” he said.
Local rider Vincent Ho, fourth in the premiership with 13 wins and battling for a LONGINES IJC berth, has been in the plate for Exultant’s two runs this term and will keep the ride on Sunday. Cruz sprinkled a shower of praise his way.
“Vincent will ride him, I’m happy to have him – he’s the best local rider now, in my opinion,” he said.