A gear change was meant to result in a more relaxed Exultant and connections of the BMW Hong Kong Derby fancy certainly got that on Friday at Sha Tin, but a lacklustre effort when outpaced in a 1,200m trial probably wasn’t quite what trainer Tony Cruz wanted either.
Exultant has vaulted to the top of Derby reckoning but leading jockey Zac Purton says the jury is still out on the import’s racing manners after Friday’s trial effort.
Cruz fitted Exultant with a hood, gear designed to block out sound and relax the horse, in an effort to help the four-year-old settle ahead of Sunday week’s Hong Kong Classic Mile.
Exultant won over the Derby course and distance of 2,000m three weeks ago but over-raced and although Purton was happy the talented galloper didn’t on Friday, the jockey pointed out that the pace didn’t give his horse a chance to.
Some big #4YOCS hopes trialed today before the 21 January HK$10 million Hong Kong Classic Mile. Nothingilikemore stormed home and caught Pingwu Spark, a 4x winner this season, with Ruthven midpack #HKDerby pic.twitter.com/6T3SQ0Fuqc— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) January 12, 2018
“The aim was to see if he would be more relaxed in the hood but it was difficult to gauge how effective it was because we came back from 2,000m to 1,200m against some speedy customers and they jumped and ran along,” Purton said.
“He was never going to over-race under those circumstances and the end result was we don’t know if the hood made a huge difference. I suppose I will get a better gauge when he races on the grass at a mile.
“I was clicking him up to ask him to stay on the back of them, but he had no interest in that, he is a quirky horse. He goes from hot to cold in an instant. He is still a young horse just finding his way.”
The final 14-horse field for the Classic Mile was confirmed on Friday when Cruz withdrew Doctor Geoff from the HK$10 million race, meaning John Moore will now have four runners in the race: Ruthven, Good Standing, Rivet and Grand Chancellor.
Doctor Geoff has to trial to the satisfaction of stewards after veering off his racing line last start and Cruz will need to plot another path to the Derby, with a lead-up run in the 1,800m Class Two on January 28 now likely before the Classic Cup three weeks later.
Moore’s top two four-year-old contenders both trialled for stable jockey Tommy Berry, with Ruthven getting a pass mark and Good Standing a slightly higher grade.
Berry will ride Good Standing in the Classic Mile but indicated a switch to Ruthven might be on the cards as the series progresses up in distance.
Good Standing was found lacking in condition when third first-up and then missed a run last week due to a minor hoof complaint but bounced back with a strong trial on Friday.
“Good Standing trialled enormous, he was third under a hold,” Berry said. “After the turn he dropped the bit but I gave him a slap down the shoulder and he cruised to the line.
“It was unfortunate he missed that run the other day because he is a big horse and he would have needed it, so fitness might find him out again at a mile but his work has been great and out of our horses he is the best horse at a mile.”
Queensland Derby winner Ruthven will also head into the Classic Mile second-up after a slightly better trial than the entire has produced on the dirt previously.
“I was happy with it, even though he is still not happy on the dirt,” Berry said. “We got a little more out of him, he is not quite there yet. He had a good blow. The mile isn’t going to suit him but he will be looking for more ground and the 1,800m and 2,000m.”