Tony Cruz says a more mature Exultant is now ready for the rigours of international travel as Hong Kong’s best stayer prepares to carry on from where he left off last season.
The five-year-old won three Group Ones and finished second in another during a stunning 2018-19 campaign on home soil, but a potential trip to Japan for the Takarazuka Kinen in June never eventuated.
This time around it is Dubai on Cruz’s radar, with the veteran trainer identifying the Group One Dubai Sheema Classic (2,400m) on World Cup night in March as the perfect fit.
“He’s a very lightly framed type of horse, that’s why we didn’t go [overseas] last season,” Cruz said. “Now he’s a much more mature horse and I think health-wise, strength-wise, body-wise [he has improved].
“I think we are going to go to Dubai, we have that in mind. We’ll see how he goes this season first, I hope he can keep up his form from last season.”
While Exultant won the Hong Kong Gold Cup and was runner-up in the QE II Cup over 2,000m at Group One level last term, Cruz says he is “really a mile-and-a-half horse” and the gelding is full steam ahead in his defence of the Hong Kong Vase (2,400m) on international day.
He trialled for the first time this season on Friday, travelling quietly at the back of the field under regular rider Zac Purton in a performance that ticked the boxes for Cruz.
“I was very happy with his trial, he’s got one more trial before the Ladies’ Purse [on November 3],” he said. “Horses like him, there are no earlier preparation races for them. I’m happy with him and Zac is very happy with the horse.”
While last season Exultant began his campaign over a mile, Cruz has confirmed he will go straight to the Group Three Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse (1,800m) this time around, before having his final tune-up for the Vase in the Group Two Jockey Club Cup (2,000m) on November 17.
Stablemate Time Warp also looks likely to follow the same path, at least to begin with, before potentially having another crack at the Hong Kong Cup, which he won in 2017.
The dual Group One winner was in the same trial as Exultant, moving freely in a close second to John Moore’s Good Standing, but whether he can again be competitive at the highest level remains to be seen.
After winning the Ladies’ Purse last term, Time Warp finished third in last year’s Hong Kong Cup but failed to have an impact at Group One level in three further attempts.
“Last season he didn’t live up to his reputation, let’s see how he goes this season,” Cruz said.
One thing that could work in Time Warp’s favour is his stint in Conghua, with Cruz suggesting the six-year-old is a calmer animal after his first trip to the mainland.
“He’s very happy at Conghua, he likes it and he’s very relaxed. He’s a bit better in his mind, he’s very quiet now,” he said.