Exultant faces a weighty task in Monday’s (27 January) G3 Centenary Vase Handicap (1800m) at Sha Tin as he bids for back-to-back wins in the race.
Hong Kong’s champion stayer will shoulder 133lb against his 10 opponents with eight of those allotted 115lb or less. Only Dark Dream and Time Warp sit above that figure with 120lb imposts.
That prospect has left jockey Zac Purton with reservations ahead of the test, his first start since placing third in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) on 8 December.
“It’s never easy having to carry top-weight in these races especially coming off two strong performances at his last two starts, he really had to find everything he could second-up this season when he was able to win. Then he had another hard run in the Vase – so I think both runs took a lot out of him,” Purton said.
The Teofilo gelding impressed when winning the G2 Jockey Club Cup (2000m) in November before his admirable run behind Japan’s Glory Vase at the Hong Kong International Races.
“So here we are carrying top weight in a Group 3 – it’s not easy but the horse feels well within himself and he’s very honest so I’m sure he’ll run well,” the Australian said.
But Purton also suggested that Exultant may have lost some of the dash he showed earlier this term and which was evident when he won this race 12 months ago.
“He’s been extremely dour since the Hong Kong Vase in those trials, he hasn’t shown any speed at all but he is what he is and hopefully they can run along at a nice enough tempo to allow his stamina to come into play,” he said.
“I thought he was going really well earlier on in the season, he showed more speed in his trials than he had previously but I just think that run over 2000 (metres) took a lot out of him, we just need to see if he’s going to show some spark again,” the three-time champion jockey continued.
“1800 (metres) is not his preferred distance and it’s not really a suitable race for him but he’s honest, he’s going to try and if the circumstances permit he’s still got a chance.”
Trainer Tony Cruz however is optimistic about his gelding’s chances of bouncing back to the winner’s stall in Monday’s test.
“He’s been good, everything is going according to plan and I’m very happy with his condition, he had a good breeze this morning which pleased me,” Cruz said at Sha Tin on Friday (24 January) morning.
The experienced handler is keeping the six-year-old on the same path as last term which will see him afforded the opportunity to become the fourth horse this century to secure back-to-back Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) wins after Viva Pataca (2008 & 2009), Military Attack (2013 & 2014) and Designs On Rome (2015 & 2016) before a possible overseas assault.
“We’re still going for the same programme as last year, hopefully after the Gold Cup it’ll be a trip to Dubai. We’ll enter for that race and then consider whether or not we go – I’ll have to talk to my owner,” the handler said.
Exultant faces a competitive field in Monday’s assignment, including stablemate Time Warp (120lb), last-start G3 January Cup Handicap (1800m) winner Doctor Geoff (114lb), Harmony Victory (113lb), Chefano (113lb), Glorious Dragon (113lb) and Macau raider Sacred Capital (114lb) – the mount of fly-in rider Jamie Spencer – who was third in the G3 January Cup at Happy Valley last start.
The Class 1 Chinese New Year Cup Handicap (1400m) is the traditional feature race at the Chinese New Year race day and a stacked field of 14 will do battle for a share of the HK$2.8 million purse, including Perfect Match (113lb) who will be ridden by Alexis Badel.
“He’s done everything fine, the horse looks in great shape, he has a light weight so hopefully this helps us but he is a good horse,” Badel said.
The Danny Shum-trained gelding powered to victory last start in the Class 2 Lukfook Jewellery Cup Handicap (1400m) and is looking to make it a feature race double on Monday.
“He’s quite a strong horse, he did very well last start but we have a different gate this time and there’s a lot of pace in the race this time so it will depend on the situation what we do,” the Frenchman said.
Perfect Match will break from gate 10, while another horse that Badel knows well, Fat Turtle (130lb) will step out beside him in gate 11, this time with Joao Moreira aboard.
“They are both talented horses but let’s see what they can do,” Badel said.
Badel was aboard Fat Turtle last time when second to rising star four-year-old Golden Sixty in a 1400m G3 handicap but Joao Moreira takes the reins this time.
“Fat Turtle has ability and I think he is among the best horses in the race and if he is able to produce his best then there is no doubt that he is a winning chance,” Moreira said.
The Brazilian though was not thrilled at the prospect of having to break from a wide gate but feels the Smart Missile gelding is up to the task.
“It’s a big problem that we are going to have to deal with but we’re going to deal with it the best we can because he has gate speed but he can also be ridden quietly – he’s very versatile,” Moreira added.
The race also features dual South African G1 winner Northern Superstar (133lb) as well as Good Standing (130lb), Fast Most Furious (126lb), Flying Thunder (126lb) and Tornado Twist (117lb).
Monday’s 11-race card commences at 12.00 noon (AEDT 15:00) with the Class 5 Yue Yee Handicap (1200m).
– News from Hong Kong Jockey Club