This year's BMW Hong Kong Derby form gets its first true test when Exultant and Ruthven step out in the Class Two Kowloon Cricket Club Centenary Cup (2,200m) and both horses' jockeys believe the extra distance will bring out their best.
Exultant was third and Ruthven fourth behind Ping Hai Star and Singapore Sling in the Derby and will be tested against older horses as connections look towards the Group One Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup over 2,400m at the end of May.
Before then both horses will come back in trip to 2,000m tackle the Group One Audemars Piguet QE II Cup but Brett Prebble, who replaces Zac Purton on Exultant, and Ruthven's rider Tommy Berry believe this is the race in which their horses should shine.
Ping Hai Star stamps himself as Hong Kong's next star with a dazzling last-to-first win in the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) for jockey Ryan Moore and trainer John Size #HKDerby #4YOCS #HKRacing pic.twitter.com/qXWryAr67R— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) March 18, 2018
In their favour is the fact they have already won in Class Two, Exultant notching a dominant 2,000m win back in December and Ruthven grinding out a 1,800m victory 15 days before the Derby.
Prebble said it isn't just the end of the race that will benefit Exultant, but the start, with the chance a longer run to the first turn and slower early tempo will allow the Tony Cruz-trained gelding to be naturally closer in the run.
"I think he is a quality galloper, he has proven that, and as a 105-rated horse this is the softest class he could be entered for, but he obviously needs every bit of the 2,200m," Prebble said. “The 2,000m is all a bit fast for him, the first turn comes up fast at that start and it forces him to be racing with the final four horses."
Ruthven's Class Two win and solid Derby outing helped the Group One winning Australian import avoid what seemed an inevitable gelding operation, for now.
Berry said the key to Ruthven was fitness and body weight and it seems like the demanding schedule set for the colt by trainer John Moore finally has the son of Domesday in something like his best race shape.
“When he won the Queensland Derby he was a much leaner horse," Berry said. "In Australia they were able to train him on sand dunes but here at Sha Tin it is much harder to get horses fit, you just can't work them as hard. He has carried more condition here. In the Derby he stuck on well after he worked too hard early. The key is that he is hitting peak fitness now."
Unlike, Exultant, Ruthven is yet to show any acceleration in his races but Berry said the step up in trip made that lack of dash less important.
"That Derby win was 2,400m, so while he has seemed a little one-paced, he is now getting to a distance where he is comfortable," he said. "He doesn't have the same turn of foot as Exultant so we will need to have a head start on him. The horse is heading in the right direction and whatever he does this season he will improve on next time in, this preparation is really going to help him."
Cruz also saddles up Derby ninth Savvy Six (Alberto Sanna) and Moore has a four-year-old who missed the Derby, Grand Chancellor engaged.
Grand Chancellor was an impressive winner over 1,800m on Derby day, albeit in an average Class Three, and now jumps in grade with a feather weight of 108 pounds after apprentice Matthew Poon Ming-fai's claim.
The race looks an ideal stepping stone for a quality four-year-old, with the corresponding race last year seeing four-year-old's fill the first three places and four of the first five when Moore's pair Beauty Generation and Eagle Way beat the John Size-trained Dinozzo.