Exultant, under Zac Purton, wins the G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup (2400m).
©Hong Kong Jockey Club
By Andrew Hawkins
Long touted as a star on the rise, the Tony Cruz-trained Exultant went some way to justifying the hype around him with a big-margin victory in the G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap (2400m) at Sha Tin today (Sunday, 6 May).
Partnered by Zac Purton, 1.5 favourite Exultant was second-last in the seven-horse field passing the winning post for the first time, about four lengths from early leader Goldfield. At one time earlier this season, the slow pace early would have proved his undoing, but showing the extent of his maturity throughout the term, he raced generously for Purton until the leading rider decided to take matters into his own hands approaching the 1300m.
“It’s been pretty clear for a while that he is an out and out stayer,” Purton said. “When they were going along as slow as they were, it gave me the opportunity to slide forward down the back without covering any extra ground. You’ve got to have the right horse to be able to do it, though. There’s no point even attempting it on a horse who is incapable of it. I thought he’d be able to do it.”
Within a furlong, Exultant had assumed the pace-setting role and increased the tempo from a dawdle to a steady gallop. Quickly, though, he received pressure on his outside from Joao Moreira aboard the John Size-trained Prawn Baba, although the difference was stark; Purton sat quietly on Exultant, while Moreira resorted to a heavy drive on Prawn Baba from the 850m.
“I got to the front pretty easily really, but I wasn’t going to back it off to a sprint – Exultant just keeps going along at that one bat,” Purton said. “I just kept him in his rhythm, let him use his action, let him breeze along so he was comfortable, even when they were coming at me. I picked it up on the circle and in the end, he proved he was the superior stayer.”
It was a clear case of cream rising to the top – particularly in a handicap – as Exultant (121lb) raced clear for a six-length win over the dour Prawn Baba (115lb), with the winner’s stablemate Doyeni (115lb) a further head away in third. Last year’s winner Eagle Way (133lb), backing up from a third to Pakistan Star in the G1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup (2000m) last Sunday (29 April), finished 11 lengths from the winner in fourth.
It was Exultant’s first stakes win at his 12th career start. He boasted a placing in last year’s G1 Irish 2,000 Guineas (1600m) among four starts for trainer Mick Halford when named Irishcorrespondent, while he had finished second in the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) and third in the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) in eight starts for Cruz.
“I think this was the real Exultant,” Cruz said. “I think he’s at his best at 2000 metres and above, but unfortunately there aren’t many races for horses like him. When he gets conditions to suit, he’s capable of a win like he produced today. He showed everyone his class.”
Exultant had finished second behind Prawn Baba when they clashed in a 2200m Class 2 in mid-April, but Cruz said that effort deserved to be overlooked.
“I think that previous race, we should have won it too,” Cruz said. “We went too wide last time, we covered too much ground, and I think the race didn’t suit either. Today, 2400m suited him perfectly. I told Zac beforehand, if the pace isn’t on, just go – stretch them all out – because we know our horse can stay all day and that he had a bit of class too.
“What excites me is that today, we saw how effective he can be on the lead too. Maybe we need to put him in his races more, it’s something to think about anyway.”
Cruz said that he would see how Exultant came out of today’s effort, but he indicated that if the horse pulled up well, he would next head to the G1 Standard Chartered Champions &; Chater Cup on 27 May over the course and distance.
“I’ve already got a few horses for the race, but on his performance, I think he deserves his chance if he’s OK after today,” Cruz said. “At this stage, I’ll also have Pakistan Star, Time Warp and Gold Mount in there, but given he’s just won by six lengths, I think Exultant should be there too.”
Purton has partnered Time Warp since December, steering the chestnut to two Group 1 wins over 2000m in the LONGINES Hong Kong Cup and the Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup. When asked who he would ride in the final G1 of the Hong Kong season, though, the rider said it was out of his hands: “Tony will make that call, I’ll wait for him to decide.”
Eagle Way’s trainer John Moore said that his charge would also progress to the Champions &; Chater Cup.
“Brett (Prebble) came back and said the horse raced flat on the back-up,” Moore said. “We’ll give him his chance in the Champions &; Chater and hopefully he can bounce back.”
Racing returns to Happy Valley on Wednesday night (9 May).