Tony Cruz is adamant Exultant’s enormous 2018-19 season was not a one off and the veteran trainer has backed his superstar stayer to repeat the dose this term.
The five-year-old won three Group Ones and was second in another in a breakout season and Cruz says fans can expect to see an even better galloper in the coming months.
“I have a lot of confidence in Exultant. He’s much stronger than last season so I have to be confident that he’ll prove to be a better horse this season,” Cruz said. “I expect him to repeat what he did last season.”
Exultant steps up to 2,000m in Sunday’s Group Two Jockey Club Cup after an eye-catching third in the Group Three Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse (1,800m) two weeks ago and looks on track to defend his Hong Kong Vase crown on international day.
“That was a very good run in the Ladies’ Purse, I was really happy with what he did that day. And he took the race well, he had no stress on him, he’s looked very good since,” Cruz said.
“Exultant’s ready for [Sunday’s] race, he’s in good condition, he’s tuned up for it. Zac Purton knows him so well and he’s got a very good chance to win.
“The Vase in a few weeks is going to be the toughest test, it always is, but I believe in his ability.”
Leading the challengers in Sunday’s race are Caspar Fownes’ giant-killing pair Rise High and Southern Legend, who both come in off last-start victories.
Southern Legend knocked off Exultant in the Ladies’ Purse, while Rise High shocked Beauty Generation and looks certain to improve over the longer trip, however Fownes knows only too well what his charges come up against this weekend.
“Exultant’s the one for me. It was a huge run first-up and he’s only going to improve. He looks great when I see him walking past my yard every day, he looks the part,” Fownes said.
Fownes will make the decision after Sunday as to what trip Southern Legend and Rise High tackle on international day and he expects big things from the latter.
“He’ll be running a big race, I’m sure of it,” Fownes said of Rise High. “He’s a good horse, we’ll just go back on him and rely on the speed that looks to be there on paper with a couple of natural leaders.
“We’ll let them do their thing and hopefully we’ll hit the line hard. It’s not about this race really, it’s about December and that’s where he’ll be peaking. He’s progressing, doing things the right way and I’m sure he’ll make his presence felt.”
Vincent Ho Chak-yiu retains the ride on Rise High and hopes the horse can take him to his first Group One success next month.
“He’s definitely one of the best I’ve ridden and hopefully we can win a Group One together,” he said. “I galloped him last Saturday and he still feels good, so hopefully he will perform on Sunday.”
Fownes also expects Southern Legend to continue his strong form: “He’s a warhorse, he’s tough as. He’s seven years old and still performing with great merit. I think he’s a first-three chance.”