In 2014 Tommy Berry’s daring tactics famously rolled Joao Moreira and odds-on favourite Able Friend in the Hong Kong Classic Cup but Exultant’s headstrong nature will make it difficult for jockey Zac Purton to do the same against Nothingilikemore in the 2018 edition on Sunday.
Able Friend was sent out 1.8 favourite in the Classic Cup four years ago after a dominant Classic Mile victory but, with the brilliant miler stretching to 1,800m for the first time, Berry used Designs On Rome’s superior stamina to stretch the stablemate out of his comfort zone and dull Able Friend’s extraordinary turn of foot.
Berry even spelt out exactly how he would bring about the upset in pre-race interviews and executed his plan perfectly, before tactics and staying pedigree again made the difference over 2,000m in a thrilling 2014 BMW Hong Kong Derby.
Purton noted the similarities between Able Friend and Nothingilikemore, who showed Able Friend-like acceleration last time out and now steps up to 1,800m for the first time in the second leg of the four-year-old series, but said that while Exultant may eventually share some of the same staying qualities as Designs On Rome, he is nowhere near as seasoned at the same stage of their careers.
Designs On Rome wins 2014 Classic Cup
“Designs On Rome was a push button-type horse to ride but Exultant is the complete opposite,” Purton said. “He is a very difficult horse to ride, he does as much as he can wrong in a race. He makes it almost impossible to go out and do anything differently or change anything. You have to go out there to ride the horse, it has to be about getting the best out of him, not about trying to beat anyone else.”
So not only could a change of tactics backfire and ultimately be unsuccessful anyway, but Purton warned it would likely be a retrograde step for Exultant as trainer Tony Cruz tries to peak the Irish-bred import for the BMW Hong Kong Derby on March 18.
That leaves Sunday’s $10 million race as a last chance for Purton to educate Exultant and improve the gelding’s racing manners before the big day.
“He needs rhythm and repetition,” Purton said. “Look, we are trying to win the race on Sunday, but it might rattle his brain trying to be too clever on him at this stage.
Nothingilikemore wins 2018 Classic Mile
“You spend so long getting him onto a rhythm and getting it right that you don’t want to go out there and throw it all out the window. We just want him to keep improving mentally as we move towards the Derby. Once he learns to switch off and help himself in a race, then you have a proper horse to work with. You don’t want to be doing too many different things and confusing him.”
And as far as Nothingilikemore is concerned, Purton couldn’t fault the comprehensive last start display in which the John Size-trained star showed a blistering burst of speed to clear out from Exultant after Purton had positioned himself behind the favourite in the run.
“It was pretty impressive, I was on his back coming into the straight and at the 400 metre mark he seemed to put about five or six lengths on me. It was scary how quickly he dropped me. I think he just coasted the last 150 or 200 metres and was just waiting for some competition. It was a dominant performance.”