He has defeated the Prix de l’Arc Triomphe and Cox Plate winners and trainer Tony Cruz feels his top stayer Exultant belongs in the very top echelon of racehorses.
Cruz’s five-year-old snuck under the radar last season as Beauty Generation stole the show, but his achievements speak for themselves as a three-time Group One winner in the space of five starts.
Exultant’s first Group One came in last year’s Hong Kong Vase (2,400m) where he defeated Japanese filly Lys Gracieux in a head-bobbing finish along with Waldgeist who was unlucky after finding trouble on the home turn.
Both Lys Graxieux and Waldgeist have gone on to be two of the top horses in the world, winning the Cox Plate and Prix de l’Arc Triomphe respectively, giving Cruz hope Exultant can go on with what looks a promising career.
He begins his campaign on Sunday in the Group Three Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse (1,800m) where he is forced to shoulder the top weight of 133 pounds.
“The weight is against him, but I believe he is in better condition than last year,” Cruz said in an ominous warning to any potential rivals for his Vase title defence in five weeks’ time.
“I think further on, maybe in the Jockey Club Cup [November 17] and the internationals he will be in tip-top condition.
Cruz has no doubts his horse can mix it with the world’s best, saying it often came down to whoever has the best run on the day.
“These are all the same competitors really, these are the ones you say who is the fittest on the day and who gets the run of the day, sometimes you get a bad draw and don’t get it all your way,” he said of the competition between the likes of Lys Gracieux and Waldgeist.
“That has happened sometimes with my horse, Exultant, you look at when we went up the straight with the Japanese horse [Lys Gracieux], if you swap the results around it is a different story.”
His jockey Zac Purton watched both the Cox Plate and Prix de l’Arc Triomphe with added interest, knowing of Cruz’s plan to travel his star galloper to Dubai later this season.
“Waldgeist should have won the Vase, he copped a lot of interference and then picked himself up and didn’t get beaten by far so we were lucky to get away with that one really, but we did beat him, that’s what the form guide says,” he said.
“Watching him win the Arc, it was really nice to see the form standing up and then again with Lys Gracieux winning the Cox Plate.
“You sort of think of what could have been [running in the Cox Plate] but the quarantine issue there put a stop to that.”
Exultant proved his versatility last season when he was able to win from nearly any position in the race, including over 1,800m, where he will line up from on Sunday.
While both Cruz and Purton believe he could be short of his best on Sunday, the star jockey is full of admiration for the way he races.
“It is good to see the horses there that he has raced against come out and perform well, he deserves a lot of credit because he doesn’t win races by fluke,” Purton said.
“He wins races because he performs very, very well. He has done it from the front, done it from the back, off slow speeds, off fast speeds, he is just a consistent horse that always gives his best and there isn’t much more he can do.”
Cruz also has Time Warp in the race, who is expected to lead from the widest barrier.