Exultant seldom gets much shine in Hong Kong Horse of the Year debates, but the territory’s champion middle-distance stayer has the chance to change that as he takes centre stage in today’s Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup.
Trainer Tony Cruz’s gelding won the final Grade 1 of the season decisively last year and put his name on a fourth different Hong Kong Grade 1 prize by holding stablemate Furore in last month’s QEII Cup.
Ever the realist, jockey Zac Purton reflected on that success by saying: “Exultant’s a tough customer and I don’t think he’s at his best at the moment, I think he’s doing it on heart.”
But an alternative view, one based as much on pace and tactics as the horse himself, is well worth considering. The clock suggests Exultant was poorly placed in a steadily-run race when unable to wear down Time Warp in February’s Hong Kong Gold Cup.
By contrast, the need to ensure that old rival didn’t steal a soft lead again prompted Purton to urge him into the heat of a battle a long way from home in the QEII.
Exultant is real athlete, capable of dealing out 12-second 200m segments for fun and then digging down to produce a sub-24 second final 400m.
Furore returns for another crack, as does Time Warp, but they’ll all be playing for places if Purton can channel the hot favourite’s energy more evenly and the prospect of give in the ground shouldn’t hinder his claims in the slightest.
A double apiece at Happy Valley in midweek leaves Purton and Moreira tied up on 119 winners in the race for the jockeys’ title and the big two square off again in the Grade 3 Sha Tin Vase, in which Hot King Prawn and Thanks Forever meet for the seventh time this season.
Hot King Prawn leads 4-2 but there is seldom much between the pair and Thanks Forever held the edge in the Grade 1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize last month, charging through from the rear to lead briefly under Blake Shinn only to find Mr Stunning and Big Time Baby just too strong in the final strides.
Purton takes over from Shinn this time, but the weight difference could be the key factor. Thanks Forever has a 6lb pull with Hot King Prawn this time and that ought to be enough for him to gain reward for his consistency in high-class company this season.
That Purton and Moreira have ridden 37 winners between them at the last 10 Hong Kong meetings reveals plenty about the influence they wield and punters tend to pay a premium in order to be with them when they ride promising, unexposed horses.
Sunday’s Helene Super Star Handicap could be a case in point. Moreira partners John Size’s newcomer Sell My Sole, who could be a fair bit better than his opening mark of 52 based on several promising trial efforts, while Fast Pace clearly caught Purton’s eye when staying on well for fourth on his debut for Caspar Fownes two weeks ago.
But this Class 4 contest looks much more than just a two-horse affair. Yee Cheong Pegasus added to a lengthy list of good efforts when coming via the Happy Valley Beer Garden to finish a strong second on his latest start.
And then we have topweight Xponential, who came back from a break with a good second in the same race as Fast Pace. That form alone gives him a solid chance – and that canny trainer Douglas Whyte is keen to take advantage of his new claimer Jerry Chau’s 10lb claim adds to the belief that he’s capable of going very well indeed. – Sportingpost.com