Exultant imposed his authority on his local rivals and moved a step closer to a night in Dubai with a solid success in the Group 3 Centenary Vase Handicap at Sha Tin this afternoon (Monday, 27 January).
Hong Kong’s champion stayer carried top-weight of 133lb to secure his second win in the 1800m contest and now takes aim at a follow-up in the Group 1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) in three weeks’ time. After that, trainer Tony Cruz has designs on the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic (2410m) at Meydan.
“Next race will be the Hong Kong Gold Cup and then we’ll decide whether we go to Dubai or not,” Cruz confirmed post-race. “I’m expecting to go because he’s not getting any younger and I think we’d better make a move and go to Dubai with him.
“I believe he can do something in Dubai, I believe he can prove himself and win that race. His form is good – it shows that he’s right up there with the best.”
Cruz was full of praise for Hong Kong’s Champion Stayer after what jockey Zac Purton described as a “dour” performance over a distance short of his optimum.
“He outclassed his field today,” the handler said. “I don’t think there was any outstanding opposition and I was expecting him to win.
“He’s turned into a very professional racehorse; he waits on the jockey to make the move. Zac knows this horse so well and he knows how to use his ability and that’s half the battle won really.”
Cruz believes the experienced galloper will have no issues coping with the travel to Dubai at the end of March should connections pursue that option.
“He’s a kids’ ride, an easy horse to handle and he has no sign of temperament at all; he’s laidback and does everything slowly and quietly. He’s sound, he never raises a sweat or gets excited – he’s an easy horse to train,” he said.
Purton positioned the three-time Group 1 winner a handy third, one spot off the rail, as Dark Dream set the tempo from Macau raider Sacred Capital. The champ slipped to fourth as the tempo increased on the turn but responded to Purton’s urgings and ground his way to the lead with 300m remaining – from there on in, it was Exultant’s race.
The Teofilo six-year-old boxed on to win by a length and a half from the late-closing Glorious Dragon, to whom he conceded 20lb.
“It was a very good performance,” Purton said. “Once again he felt very dour in the run today after the season he’s had so far. When I wanted to let him bring me into the race he wasn’t able to do it, I had to really get up him to get his momentum going carrying the big weight – you can’t let him get outsprinted. It was just a good tough effort and it sets him up nicely for the Hong Kong Gold Cup.”
The Tony Millard-trained Glorious Dragon ran the race of his life to fill the runner-up berth under Alexis Badel. The improving grey was 18lb out of the handicap, off a rating of 91, but kept on despite a less-than-clear passage in the home run.
“He ran on nicely, he stays on well and he ran a very good race,” Badel said. “The horses from behind came on the turn and I had to wait a little bit because my horse wasn’t well-balanced but he overcame it and came home very strong.”
Cruz ended the day with a treble thanks to further wins from Sunshine Warrior in the Class 4 Red Packet Handicap (1400m) and God Of Dragon in the Class 3 Kung Hei Handicap (2000m), both under Joao Moreira.
“It’s a big day, it’s always been a big day’s racing in the calendar here; Chinese New Year, it means a lot to win races on this day,” Cruz said.
The afternoon’s other feature, the Hong Kong Classic Mile, went to Golden Sixty, ridden by Vincent Ho and trained by Francis Lui, who also saddled the runner-up, More Than This.