The Tony Cruz-trained Exultant is already one of the most sought after rides for next year’s BMW Hong Kong Derby but jockey Zac Purton insists the Irish import is far from the finished product.
Two eye-catching runs have Exultant one of the early favourites for the 2018 classic and the colt gets a chance to prove himself over the Derby distance of 2,000m in the Long Ke Handicap.
“He feels like he has a lot of developing to do, he has a lot of natural ability but his race brain can probably improve,” Purton said, the Australian jockey having ridden Exultant to a 1,200m barrier trial win on December 12.
“He is extremely laid back and he doesn’t do everything comfortably. As you would expect for a young horse, he is still working out what it is all about. I think as he goes along he will continue to improve. He has a little bit of a habit of not jumping well, but he did get away well in the trial, and he has a tendency to grab the bit and lock his jaw a little bit. He is a young horse and is still learning. Racing doesn’t come naturally to him at this stage. Physically as well, you look at him and he looks like a baby.”
Formerly known as Irishcorrespondent in Ireland, Exultant easily won his first two starts over a mile before finishing third in the Group One Irish 2,000 Guineas behind Churchill.
Exultant now steps beyond a mile for the first time since finishing fifth, beaten seven lengths, in the Group Three Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot over 1,993m.
“It should be fine for him but it is his first go at it here, so we just need to hope that the tempo of the race is fine for him to give him a chance to show us his best,” Purton said, with the rider still non-committal on whether he will ride Exultant in the first leg of the four-year-old series, the Hong Kong Classic Mile, on January 21.
“He is obviously a lovely horse but let’s see what happens, there are still a few horses to go around, but he is right up there at the top of the list.”
Friday’s dirt trials saw a number of Derby prospects strut their stuff including John Moore’s exciting import Ruthven.
Ruthven is set to make his local debut in a 1,400m Class Two on January 1 and jockey Tommy Berry said it would pay to ignore what might have seemed to some like an average trial on the dirt.
“I just can’t get a guide on our horses on the dirt, we saw Helene Paragon trial terribly on the dirt before the internationals and then ran a big race in the Hong Kong Mile,” Berry said.
“Most of our horses are like that, they do their serious work on the grass and when they are on the dirt they are always on the bit. Ruthven travelled well enough in today’s trial, but then he came off the bit and was a bit of a duffer on it. But going off his work on the grass we are really pleased with him. When he goes to the races he will also have the blinkers on, which he wore in Australia.”