Exultant staked his claim for the Champions & Chater Cup with a stunning victory in the Group Three Queen Mother Memorial Cup, aided by a decisive mid-race move from Zac Purton.
Tony Cruz’s four-year-old delivered on the promise he has shown, producing a career-best performance to be six lengths clear of his nearest rival at the finish of the 2,400m contest.
After settling towards the rear of the field, Purton decided he’d had enough of the slow sectionals – they ran a dawdling 26.24 seconds from the 1,600m to the 1,200m – sweeping around the field down the back straight and injecting some pace into the race.
That was the winning move as the others were all off the bit chasing while Purton had a lapful of horse underneath him, streaking away in the straight to leave Prawn Baba and Doyeni fighting out the placings.
“Like I said to Zac, if the pace is not on, just go, take it on, let’s stretch everybody here because this horse is nothing but a stayer,” Cruz said.
Purton executed the move to perfection, and it is something he had been toying with previously.
“It something I’ve had in the back of my mind for a long time but you’ve just got to have the right circumstances to do it,” he said.
“He has got more dour as time has gone on, there was only one horse in the race to beat, there was no point spotting him a start when they were going as slow as they were. I was able to cruise around and take it up without doing any work. I knew if I stayed where I was it was going to make my job hard. You’ve got to be on the right horse to make a move like that and fortunately he’s got a big set of lungs.
“It was good to see him do that today because he has been a bit disappointing, obviously he’s just an out and out stayer and the races here in Hong Kong aren’t going to be long enough for him.”
The win was not a shock to punters, who backed Exultant into $1.55 at the jump, while the trainer was also expecting a strong showing.
“I wasn’t surprised, I think his previous run, we should have won that race too because we were tracking too wide and we lost too much ground,” Cruz said.
“The 2,400m suits him perfectly. His best distance is 2,000m and above and the type of races we have in Hong Kong, we don’t really get that kind of distance, but today we showed everybody how good he is.”
The Hong Kong Derby placegetter is now set to head to the Group One Champions & Chater Cup over the same trip, one of three 2,400m races on the Hong Kong calendar.
“I’ll see how he pulls up, if he pulls up well, I’ll enter,” Cruz said.
The trainer holds all the aces three weeks out from the HK$10 million feature, likely to present a four-pronged attack with Pakistan Star, Time Warp and Gold Mount. Purton does not know who he will be riding yet and will “leave that up to Tony”.
Cruz confirmed English jockey William Buick, the man who rode Pakistan Star to victory in the QE II Cup, will have first right of refusal for the Champions & Chater Cup.
“Buick is going to retain the ride, but if Buick cannot ride then I’ll probably get Tommy Berry,” he said.
The disappointment of the race was last year’s winner Eagle Way, who only plugged away to finish fourth, 11 lengths behind Exultant.
“The jockey [Brett Prebble] said he was flat,” trainer John Moore said.