Exultant has solidified his position as the best stayer in Hong Kong with a grinding effort which saw him dig deep to prevail in the Group One Champions & Chater Cup (2,400m) at Sha Tin on Sunday.
The five-year-old, who started at a long odds-on quote of $1.5, appeared to be flat-footed with 600m to run but delivered in spades when he found the line to beat home the fast-finishing roughie Rise High ($44).
The win has come at a cost, however, with trainer Tony Cruz ruling out a trip to Japan for an assault on the Group One Takarazuka Kinen (2,200m) next month, opting to cool the jets at home with an eye towards the Sheema Classic (2,400m) in Dubai next year.
The win highlighted a near-perfect day for jockey Zac Purton, who booted home six winners on the card, while it delivered Cruz his sixth win in the race in the last seven years.
The Australian jockey said while Exultant was not his usual self on Sunday, he showed his fighting qualities as he has done all season long.
“He was all heart today, he pulled in the run today which he hasn’t done for some time,” he said. “He was gone at the 600m but his big heart just continued to carry him to the finish line.
“It was a good, tough effort from a horse that hasn’t let us down all season, he has been great all season. He is our best stayer and he showed that again.
“He probably raced below his best today so I don’t think Japan is going to be happening.”
After talking up the prospects of a trip to Japan pre-race, Cruz said Sunday’s gut-busting run put a line through any hopes of that.
With the track rated good to yielding after a downpour earlier in the meeting, Cruz said his top-rated horse did not appreciate the give.
“Today’s going doesn’t seem to be very suitable for Exultant, I think he is better off on the good to firm track,” he said.
“We have just decided, the owner, myself and the jockey, that we are not going to go to Japan, we are going to stay back and wait for next season.
“Next season, maybe the trip is Dubai, that is in our calendar, the Sheema Classic.”
The win takes Exultant to three Group One victories this season, which sees him join Designs On Rome (2013-14), Military Attack (2012-13) and Vengeance Of Rain (2004-05) as the only recent stayers to win three Group Ones in a single season.
Such is his rich vein of form, he has run no worse than second since November last year.
While Japan is off the cards for Exultant, Rise High’s trainer Caspar Fownes has put it on the agenda for his charge.
After returning from Singapore with a Group One under his belt thanks to Southern Legend, the affable trainer said he would consider the Takarazuka Kinen for Rise High.
“It was a very good run, it would have been nice if everything came through as planned there because I thought he’d just come out at the 500m … but that didn’t happen,” he said.
“It has cost us a little bit but I am very, very happy with that effort, it was a massive run. I might have to have a chat to the owners and think about going to Japan or something, there is nothing left for him here.”
Fownes was left to rue what could have been with Rise High should he have been granted a run in last month’s QE II Cup instead of being forced into the Champions Mile over an unfavourable distance.
“Considering I wanted him to run in 2,000m at the end of April, I begged on a few occasions but we couldn’t get him into the field, I think that has cost us the race really,” he said.
“In saying that we are walking away with a great effort and we are looking forward to next season with a horse that I have always said was there, he is a Group One horse now and we can prepare him for the right races coming up.
“It is really exciting, he was out of the ratings a little bit there against the best, Exultant is a star stayer and we have run a better sectional than him.”