Top stayer Exultant will attempt to go where only the best stayers in Hong Kong have gone by winning three Group One’s in a single season on Sunday.
The Tony Cruz-trained five-year-old has slipped under the radar this season with champion miler Beauty Generation rightfully stealing the headlines but he has the opportunity to put his name up in lights in the Group One Champions & Chater Cup (2,400m).
There is also a potential overseas trip to Japan for the Takarazuka Kinen (2,200m) next month should he come out of the race in good order, which would only further enhance his reputation.
“What’s very important is how he pulls up after this race and that will tell us if we’re going anywhere else with him,” trainer Tony Cruz said.
“If he wins or doesn’t win, if he doesn’t pull up good then there’s no point going anywhere, but if he does we’ll go to Japan.”
Only the likes of Designs On Rome (2013-14), Military Attack (2012-13) and Vengeance Of Rain (2004-05) have managed to win three major staying races in the one season in recent history.
Ridden by premier jockey Zac Purton, Exultant has reeled off wins in both the Group One Longines Hong Kong Vase (2,400m) and the Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2,000m) along with a Group Three win in the Centenary Vase (1,800m).
Exultant became just the third Hong Kong-trained horse to win the Vase in December when Purton dragged him off the canvas to hold off a fast finishing Lys Gracieux.
He was also only narrowly beaten by Japanese raider Win Bright in last month’s Group One QE II Cup (2,000m), easily performing the best of any Hong Kong horse in the race.
“He didn’t have a perfect race in the QE II but if we swapped gates with the winner I think we could have won. But he pulled up well, this is another big race and I believe he’s ready for it,” Cruz said.
“He came out of the last race good and I’m very happy with him. He’s a real stayer and the QE II at 2,000m was a just a little on the short side but the 2,400m is his ideal.
“If he can win this and get the Champion Stayer title we’d be happy with that.”
Exultant has trialled once since last month’s QE II defeat, leaving Cruz confident of his chances going in.
Although he finished more than seven lengths behind a rampaging Pakistan Star, Cruz believes he can turn the tables on race day.
“Exultant’s trial was all right, there wasn’t much to see but Zac (Purton) was very happy with him and he had a lot of gas in the tank, he just doesn’t have the pace to show that at 1,200m,” he said.
Formerly named Irishcorrespondent in Europe, Exultant was sold to Hong Kong and aimed at last year’s Derby, where he finished third.
Since then he has been a model of consistency, finishing no worse than fifth in his time here, despite arriving with a rating of 90.
After finishing second in the Champions & Chater last year to Pakistan Star as a four-year-old, Exultant is looking for revenge on his former stablemate, who has found a new lease on life under trainer Paul O’Sullivan.
Meanwhile, Frankie Lor Fu-chuen is praying for rain to assist his galloper Dark Dream in the race.
The consistent four-year-old had been rock solid since arriving in Hong Kong from Australia as a Group One winner but put in his worst race in the QE II, where he finished seventh.
The son of All American is a known mudlark and Lor is hoping the weather forecasts for rain are correct.
“I think it should be better for him, the rain and the step-up in distance,” said Lor, who will also saddle up Glorious Forever in the race.
“Both are in good condition, if the rain continues it should be better for Dark Dream.”
Joao Moreira will ride Dark Dream while James McDonald will fly in from Australia to ride Glorious Forever.