Zac Purton caught Tony Cruz off guard with his stunning mid-race move in the Group One Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2,000m) but the trainer’s surprise soon turned to elation as Exultant saluted in convincing fashion at Sha Tin on Sunday.
While Time Warp and Glorious Forever went to the front of the field as expected, Purton decided he didn’t like how easy they were getting it, making his move at the 1,000m and surging to the lead on Exultant.
“Zac rode a hell of a race. I thought Time Warp would be going at a really fast pace as he did when he won [last year’s Gold] Cup in record time,” said Cruz, who also trains Time Warp.
“I told Vincent [Ho Chak-yiu] to just go with the flow, let him run his race and Zac found his pace was too slow and he just took it on and I said ‘holy mackerel, he is going to piss in’. I was hoping at the top of the straight he would do it but he took off [earlier].”
Exultant’s win made it consecutive Gold Cup victories for Purton and Cruz – who has now won the race six times as a trainer after two wins as a jockey – and it was the five-year-old’s second Group One success after his win in the Longines Hong Kong Vase (2,400m) in December.
Purton was also aboard for that success and knew the horse was more than capable of handling a sustained run.
“I was comfortable with the way the race was being run in the first 400m but once we got to the mile they really started to back it off and the horses in front of me weren’t taking the positions they should have been taking or rolling into it,” he said.
“They kept dragging back and back and back and therefore it allowed the leaders to start to slow the speed. I just got to a point where I bit the bullet and I just decided to go.
“I knew he wasn’t going to let me down, I know he’s an out-and-out stayer, I know he will continue to gallop along and something else is going to have to catch him, thankfully nothing caught him.”
Exultant defeated the Dubai-bound Southern Legend by one-and-a-half lengths, with the Caspar Fownes-trained six-year-old running a huge race after being sent out at $57.
“The lack of respect this horse is getting is just a joke, he is putting in a great effort every start he goes around and he was the biggest outsider in the race,” said a visibly thrilled Fownes. “I was having a quiet chuckle to myself, I thought he would run really well and he did.”
Southern Legend’s performance filled Fownes with confidence ahead of his trip to Dubai, answering any questions about whether the gelding would handle stepping up to 2,000m for the first time.
Southern Legend is entered for a host of races in Dubai, with his targets the Group One Dubai Turf (1,800m) on Dubai World Cup night on March 30 and possibly the Group One Jebel Hatta (1,800m) on March 9.
“It’s all systems go. He’s leaving on February 28, I’ll fly down early March and have a look at him and I’ll see whether I want to give him a run on March 9 or we just go straight into the World Cup,” Fownes said.
“He likes his racing and we’ll just see how he is. We thought we would avoid Beauty Generation and now we see that [Japanese star] Almond Eye is there, but that’s good, it doesn’t matter. That’s racing, you are going to have some champions out there to take on.”