Exultant passes the post a relaxed last of 11 in the 1st batch.
©Hong Kong Jockey Club
By David Morgan
Exultant (formerly named Irishcorrespondent)heads towards Sunday week’s (21 January) Hong Kong Classic Mile as one of the lead protagonists but with a query or two lingering over his hooded head.
Tony Cruz’s exciting bay joined fellow Hong Kong Classic Mile entrants Nothingilikemore, Good Standing, Ruthven and Singapore Sling in barrier trial action at Sha Tin this morning, Friday, 12 January.
Exultant’s switched-off 12 lengths last of 11 in the first batch, sporting a hood for the first time, left jockey Zac Purton pleased that there was no repeat of the over-racing that marked the early stages of the Irish import’s imposing last start win in Class 2, yet ruminating over the workings of his tricky partner.
“I don’t know if it was the hood going on or going over 2000 metres last start and then coming back to a 1200-metre dirt trial that was the reason for him being so laidback this morning,” Purton said.
“I think, until I ride him in a hood in a race on the grass, over a distance where he’s going to be able to travel, it’s hard to get a gauge on how effective that equipment was this morning.
“It was completely different to his race,” he continued. “But that run seems to have taken the edge off him. Coming back to a 1200-metre trial on the dirt he was always going to get run off his legs a little bit, and we put the hood on him today in the hope that he would be a little more relaxed. It certainly helped in that respect.”
Exultant was tapped for toe in the trial’s early stages and raced at the back of the field with Purton content to let the G1 Irish 2,000 Guineas (1600m) third roll home at leisure.
“They seemed to go a little bit quick for him but I thought he trialled well enough,” Purton said. “He’s a quirky horse; he has some strange characteristics so it might take us a little bit of time to work him out fully but I’m happy enough with the way he went this morning.”
Any concern the rider has about dropping back to a mile for the first leg of Hong Kong’s Four-Year-Old Classic Series is only slight.
“You’ve always got to be worried about that; it’s a big drop in distance and he’s going to be racing against some sharp horses. But I’m sure he’s going to run well and hopefully there’s going to be plenty of speed in the race so he can be the one getting over the top of them late.”
The John Size-trained Nothingilikemore caught the eye ahead of Exultant. Hong Kong’s highest-rated four-year-old quickened smartly under Keith Yeung to collar the talented five-year-old Pingwu Spark and pass the post first in a time of 1m 09.88s.
Berry’s take on Ruthven and Good Standing
G1 Queensland Derby winner Ruthven, one of the big names in John Moore’s four-year-old team, ran home a solid seventh under Tommy Berry.
“Ruthven trialled much better than he did on the dirt last time and that’s obviously been because he was let off the bit in his previous trial on it, so he felt a little bit more comfortable. You can see he travelled very well in the trial, but he still isn’t totally happy when he lets down on the dirt,” Berry said.
“He had a nice blow. He’ll be competitive in the mile but I’m really looking forward to him getting to the 1800 metres for the Classic Cup and the 2000 for the Derby. Those races are more his go, whereas Good Standing would be a better chance in the Classic Mile.”
Berry piloted the Moore-trained Good Standing in batch two, also over 1200m, and the bay exhibited good dash as he closed for fourth in a time of 1m 10.24s.
“He quite enjoys the dirt, he’s always worked well on it,” the stable jockey said. “The good thing about him is he’s got tactical speed; if you want to take a sit he’ll switch off, if there’s no speed in the race he’s led and won in Australia, so he’s a very versatile horse.”
Good Standing lacked for fitness when a good fourth over 1400m first-up but had to miss his intended second start on 7 January due to minor lameness in his near hind.
“He’s a bit fitter than he was in his first-up run but it’s a bit disappointing that he was scratched the other day. It would have been nice to have a run in-between because he’s quite a big, gross horse. When he races next week, he’s probably going to need the run, only because he did miss that run, but I’m still confident he’ll run very well.
“He’s run well over a trip in Australia but he’s very sharp at the moment, he’s got a good turn-of-foot, so at the moment he feels more of a miler to me, but he’ll definitely stretch out to the 1800, it’s whether, once we get to the 2000, that finds him out. But I’m confident the Classic Cup distance won’t be a problem.
“He’s forward enough to run very well in the mile but, just like last time, you might find that the fitness edge gives out a little with missing that run.”
The Tony Millard-trained Singapore Sling, a smart winner over 1650m in Class 2 at Happy Valley late last month, appeared to move well enough as he finished mid-pack in batch three under Nash Rawiller.